Despite having enough textbooks for most of its high schools, the Philadelphia school system's tracking and distribution methods are lacking and must be reformed to deal with shortages, district officials said yesterday.
Superintendent Arlene Ackerman ordered audits of the textbook supply of every school in the 167,000-student district after some teenagers told Ackerman last month they did not have books. The district has spent $124 million in textbooks since 2005.
Teams of administrators have completed checks at all high schools and are moving on to middle schools, they said.
"In most cases, the books were available," said Tomas Hanna, chief of school operations.
Some schools had shortages but had already ordered books. Others had an adequate supply but teachers didn't know where books were kept, so students went without.
Three or four high schools - which Ackerman declined to name - had textbook problems that "caused us real concern," she said.
The main issue, Ackerman said, is that the district has no central tracking system for books. She pledged to institute one by the spring.
Schools have also been inconsistent in holding students accountable for lost books. The district has a policy where students must pay for misplaced or damaged books, or perform community service if they can't afford the cost. Ackerman said that principals have been directed to enforce the policy.
Earlier, at a regularly scheduled meeting of the School Reform Commission, district officials announced they had nearly bridged a $30 million budget gap for the fiscal year that ended in June. A $476,000 deficit remains.
Chief business officer Michael Masch said the district managed to take in about $10 million more in revenues than anticipated and saved about $20 million in expenditures with no major cuts.
And though the district must add $10 million in salary and benefit costs to its budget for the fiscal year ending June 2009 - no provisions had been made for raises on new one-year contracts negotiated with four unions - Masch said he was optimistic that budget would be balanced, as well.
"If we manage well and get no more unanticipated bad news, we will restore this district to financial stability, as we promised we would," Masch said.
But he and others warned that it was a big if - the district relies heavily on state and city aid, and a brutal economic climate might affect how much the district might get from City Hall and the Statehouse.
In other news, Ackerman said that Philadelphia schools would remain open on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20. She said it was a tough call and the subject of much discussion.
A special curriculum will be developed, and every student should be able to watch President-elect Barack Obama take the oath of office on television, she said.
"We're making sure our students know the significance of this day," Ackerman said.
Students whose parents are taking them to the inauguration will have excused absences that day.