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Hite warns of 1,000-plus layoffs

He says district needs $216 million more - or else.

PHILADELPHIA School District Superintendent William Hite said yesterday that unless the district receives $216 million in new funding, it would be forced to lay off more than 1,000 employees.

That was part of the bad news in the district's proposed $2.5 billion budget, which was as grim as expected.

The district is requesting up to $320 million in new revenue from the city and state, and labor concessions. Of the $320 million, $96.1 million is needed to maintain current service levels, which Hite described as "insufficient."

The district is counting on $120 million from the extension of the extra 1 percent sales tax, which City Council has yet to approve.

If the district does not get the minimum amount requested, officials said reductions would be made to special education, nurses, school police, alternative education, transportation, facilities and administrative supports, accounting for more than 1,000 layoffs. To absorb the cuts, average class sizes would swell to 37 in elementary schools and up to 41 in high schools.

"This is a revenue request. This is a revenue need," Hite said, emphasizing need. "This district can no longer cut its way to eliminating deficits. It's just not enough individuals remaining in the district."

If those cuts took effect, Hite said schools would resemble "empty shells." He insisted that neither the city nor state could afford to let the district reach that point.

Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said the lack of funding is part of "the intentional dismantling of a school district."

"Until Pennsylvania adopts a fair funding formula for our schools, we will continue to witness the evisceration of our school district and as a result, the ultimate decline of Philadelphia," Jordan said in a statement.

If the district receives its full request, officials said it would begin to implement "transformative" initiatives outlined in Hite's Action Plan 2.0. That would include strengthening early literacy and kindergarten readiness programs, ensuring full-time counselors at every school, offering a wider range of extracurricular options, providing more feedback for teachers and replicating high-performing schools.

Last year, the district received an additional $112 million from the city and state, but $95 million of that was onetime, nonrecurring revenue.

It is unclear when the district's funding issues will be resolved this year.

The School Reform Commission will hold a public hearing on the budget at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the district's headquarters on Broad Street near Spring Garden. District officials will be in Council for a budget hearing on May 5.

The SRC must adopt its final budget by May 29.