Without a state budget, the Philadelphia School District could cancel classes for its 130,000 students as of Jan. 29, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. says.
"After that date," Hite wrote in a letter to staff this week, "our ability to keep schools open, issue paychecks, and pay bills is uncertain. The prospect of running out of operating funds is dire."
The School Reform Commission recently took out a short-term loan of $250 million to keep the lights on temporarily, but with struggling districts and state agencies around Pennsylvania in similar binds, it's not clear whether the system would be able to borrow more money if the budget impasse continues.
Hite said the district was "exploring all our options for contingency planning," but could make no guarantees about what would happen.
He urged employees to continue advocating for a budget "that provides the critical support all Pennsylvania students deserve" with the legislature and Gov. Wolf.
Lawmakers on Wednesday appeared to grow closer to a budget deal. Leaders said that if they can muster enough support, a final budget could go to Wolf by the weekend. If that deal falls through, they said, a stopgap spending plan is a possibility.
The Pennsylvania Senate passed budget-related bills last week, albeit ones that alarm Hite and others. The Senate education-code bill, which all of Philadelphia's senators voted for, includes language that would allow the state to run or give to charters up to five struggling Philadelphia schools per year.
Jerry Jordan, teachers' union president, said the Harrisburg situation has escalated "from a quagmire to a crisis to a full-scale emergency."
That Philadelphia and other districts are on the brink of shutdown, Jordan said in a statement, is unthinkable.
"This is a dereliction of duty that has jeopardized the futures of our schoolchildren," Jordan said.