Pennsylvania releases $45 mln for struggling Philadelphia schools

Reuters

By Hilary Russ

Oct 16 (Reuters) - Philadelphia's cash-starved schooldistrict will get $45 million from the state of Pennsylvaniaafter Governor Tom Corbett said on Wednesday that he wouldrelease the funds, which were being held until teachers madeconcessions in a new labor contract.

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers still has notannounced a new contract after their previous one expired onAugust 31.

But Corbett said he was handing down the money, previouslyapproved by state lawmakers, after Philadelphia schools'Superintendent William Hite sent a letter on Tuesday to thestate's education department that outlined reforms implementedsince the beginning of the school year.

Based on those changes, Corbett said in a statement, hedecided that the school system had made enough fiscal,educational and operational progress for the funds to bereleased.

"The reforms... are critical to the district's ability tobetter manage costs, ensuring that any new money that goes tothe district gets spent on things that will improve the qualityof education for students," Corbett said.

Philadelphia's 134,000 public school students began thecurrent school year as the district's long-simmering financialcrisis threatened to come to a head.

A last minute promise for a $50 million loan from the cityallowed school officials to rehire about 1,000 of the 3,800teachers and staffers it previously laid off because of budgetcuts.

Corbett spokesman Jay Pagni said that contract concessionsfrom teachers was just one of several changes the state wantedto see before releasing the funds.

"It is not about one thing or the other," Pagni toldReuters. "It is a demonstrative commitment by the schooldistrict. It was a comprehensive plan."

One big change the school district made, according to Hite'sletter: suspending parts of the school code, which allows thedistrict to rehire employees without having to considerseniority as the sole factor - a change the union has opposed.

"The release of this money is welcome news in what has beena very tough school year, but it is not a long-term fix," saidPFT president Jerry Jordan in a statement.

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