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April 12, 2017

Audit: Philly schools risk losing federal aid due to inadequate staffing

Education Audits
School District of Philadelphia headquarters Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

The School District of Philadelphia headquarters on North Broad Street.

As the School District of Philadelphia conducts an aggressive hiring campaign, a recent audit revealed public schools lacked adequate staffing levels to receive federal funding.

On Wednesday, City Controller Alan Butkovitz released findings that showed the school district didn't meet staffing standards required by the Pennsylvania Department of Education during Fiscal Year 2016. Failure to comply risks the receipt of federal grant money from Title I, which is provided to schools serving low-income students.

“The grant funding requirements are specific in that all schools receive comparable money for the number of students that it educates," Butkovitz said. “It is essential that schools in some of the city’s high-poverty neighborhoods have the same educational opportunities as schools in other neighborhoods.”

The audit examined 23 city schools and found that 17 institutions failed to maintain appropriate staffing. Overall, 48 staff members needed to be hired. Ethan Allen Elementary School, Bartram High School, Frankford High School, Benjamin Franklin High School and Huey Elementary School had the largest ratios of noncompliance.

School officials recognized the staffing problem and said the district is actively looking to hire as many as 1,000 staff members by next school year.

The district launched a three-month marketing campaign to recruit new teachers. So far, 277 applications have been received since January.

“It is encouraging that the School District has taken several actions to increase their staffing levels,” said Butkovitz. “They have the opportunity now to fill all required positions before they must tackle the looming budget deficit.”

While new teachers will be added to fill current vacancies, members of the teachers union have already grown frustrated. Educators have been working five years without a contract or pay raises, prompting a crowdfunded billboard along I-95 to pressure the district for a "fair contract."

Still, District Superintendent William Hite sees progress moving forward as the city continues a $440 million investment plan to improve educational opportunities.

“This is a great time to teach and work in the School District of Philadelphia," Hite said. "We are hiring and continue to add to our teacher force, especially in the areas of early literacy."