Blog:Using Liquor to Help Fund School Budget Shortfalls

I'm all for 'thinking outside the box' but the use of liquor and schools in the same sentence is just wrong -- there's got to be a better way!

Looking beyond our own school district boundaries, did you see the suggestion of a Philadelphia City Council member to help fund the Philadelphia city school system?  With a larger than expected budget shortfall (nearly $80 million in the red!), one Council member supports the theory that difficult times require creative solutions. 

Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds-Brown has proposed legislation that would keep Philadelphia bars open an additional hour -- to raise money for the city schools! Currently the bars are open until 2 AM, but the proposed legislation would extend the closing bell to 3 AM. This extra hour of liquor tax revenue would go to the city school system and is anticipated to net the schools an extra $5 million. 

I’m all for the ‘thinking outside the box’ ideas but somehow the use of  liquor and schools in the same sentence just seems wrong.  There's got to be a better way! 

Over in Delaware County, the Chester Upland School District has become the poster child for failing school districts in the state.  CUSD announced to the state in December that they would be out-of-money by early January and therefore, unable to meet their payroll, utilities, etc.  With the announcement, brought an offer from the CUSD teachers to work without pay, at least temporarily.  At the ninth hour, the federal court intervened, issuing a short reprieve and an order for the state to advance $3.2 million to the district. Although the state money has continued to keep the doors open and the teachers on the job, this band-aid solution was only worth a few weeks.

Come the beginning of February, Chester Upland School District will have used up their advance and will, once again, be out of money – CUSD needs approximately $20 million to finish out the school year. Gosh, don’t the kids in CUSD deserve to know that their schools will be open until the end of the year?

Finally, click here for a draft legislative proposal that several PA state legislators recently made public.  Marked confidential, the draft proposal document is titled “Chester Upland Fiscal Distress” and dated November 4, 2011.  Interesting to note that this draft proposal was written prior to CUSD’s request to the state for financial help.  The proposal calls for the state to take over school districts in financial distress (starting with Chester Upland) and run the school district with the use of an oversight board – a ‘Special Board of Control’.

This special board would have the legal authority to cancel teacher contracts, turn district schools into charter schools, reassign or suspend staff and to close schools. To be clear, this is only a draft proposal and no formal legislation has yet been introduced – however, this draft would suggest that the ‘handwriting is the wall’  for the introduction of this, or similar legislation.

Looks like Chester Upland School District could become the model for all distressed school districts across the state. It is probably a fair assumption that how the state handles the financial crisis in CUSD will be duplicated in every other failing school district in Pennsylvania.


Community Matters:  www.pattyebenson.org

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