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2013 School District of Philadelphia review

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The School District of Philadelphia (SDP) opened with 23 shuttered schools and nearly 4,000 layoffs. Harrisburg and the School Reform Commission (SRC) continued to have no answers and a magical 45 million dollars in addition to expected concessions from the Philadelphia Teacher’s Union. Superintendent Hite advised the city that a mere 50 million dollars would be enough to open the schools on time. Parent and educator advocacy groups hit the streets with rallies and warnings that simply opening the schools with a skeleton staff would not be safe or prudent. No one listened and the School District of Philadelphia opened on time. Read a parent's plea here.

On March 7, 2013, the SRC voted to close 23 schools in the face of a looming deficit. During this same month the PFT was asked to take a 13% pay cut and Hite suggested that seniority be overlooked in regard to layoffs and hires. Schools opened with one nurse for every 1500 students, fewer assistant principals, no librarians, and no full time counselors. 8th graders and high school seniors would have no support for high school or college applications.

Parents United for Public Education in conjunction with the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia (please note correction) began collecting complaint claims to submit to the Department of Education in Harrisburg in regard to unsafe conditions and not fulfilling the Pennsylvania Constitution. They continue follow-up on those complaints. On September 8, PCAPS sponsored a candlelight vigil for full funding and Full Funding Friday rallies were hosted at several neighborhood schools with students, parents, and staff. Diane Ravitch visited the Free Library to speak about her new book, Reign of Terror on September 17. On September 30, at the Union League located on 140 South Broad Street, the Philadelphia Student Union supported by other advocacy groups raised chants and signs urging the state for full funding. One student eloquently stated, “Why keep building jails? We are not going to jail. We are going to college.” Just inside an example of privatization was taking place at a two-day conference: All of the above: How donors can expand a City’s Great Schools.

Teacher Action Group (TAG) hosted several events this year including Stories from the Past/Visions for the Future at the Media Mobilizing Project office. A panel rich with experience discussed previous union organizing measures. Check out their website for future events.

The SRC hosted a Strategy, Policy and Priority meeting in October about parent engagement. The round table discussions included some debate and frustration about the current school crisis. Shortly before this meeting a 6th grader, Laporshia Massey died from an asthma attack. Her death is attributed to the lack of a school nurse at her school. School nurses organized by Eileen Duffey (Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools) held a silent candlelight vigil in front of the School District of Philadelphia at 440 North Broad Street on Thursday, October 17 to mourn her death. Shortly after, the 45 million dollars that Harrisburg had been holding hostage was released.

Later in October, SDP hosted several meetings to continue a discussion from the summer about School Performance Profile Measures or School Report Cards. The Superintendent hosted each of these meetings. He does not believe that the current state measurement tool full reflects the bigger picture of Philadelphia public schools. This is connected to fair funding, but there are schools like Meredith who raised nearly $300,000 from their parents in response to the budget crisis.

The 45 million dollars restored some staff including full time counselors. This calm in the storm will reverse soon if full funding or nearly 300 million is not restored to the School District of Philadelphia. A proposed sales tax and cigarette tax are expected to provide long term funding for Philadelphia schools. Residents and stakeholders are asked to contact their local city council members to approve the 1% sales tax. Organizations like PCCY have valuable data and information regarding these new measures and its effects on Philadelphia and the surrounding counties.

On Thursday, November 14th Lois Weiner gave a talk about her new book, The Future of Our Schools: Teachers Unions and Social Justice at the University of Pennsylvania. This book is a must read for current rank and file membership of the PFT (Philadelphia Teachers Union). It provides a tangible and concrete response to the looming question, why are teachers unions dangerous? This battle against privatization, low funding, and the continuous attack on teaching as a profession must be waged with a transparent and fully vested union. More can be read here.

Monday, November 18 the SRC hosted a second Strategy, Policy, and Priorities meeting focused on options for increasing student access to better schools. The meeting was strongly attended and the same round table format was utilized. The panelists included administrators from the Workshop School, Science Leadership Academy, and Young Scholars. The discussion centered on low performing schools and possible strategies for improvements. More details can be found here.

The final SRC meeting of the year was held on December 19 at 4 pm. Two extraordinary students were honored as the Office Depot Seniors of the month, Fatmata Bah and Alessandra Mullen. The breach in sharing information about new hires was included on the agenda along with contracts regarding professional development and seats for emotionally disturbed students. Read here for additional information.

Overall, 2013 has already been a rough and tumultuous year for the School District of Philadelphia. Schools continue to function with low funding and decisions are always being made with little to no input from parents, teachers, staff, or students. Many of the 4,000 laid off in June have not returned to work and were affected by the stop in emergency unemployment effective December 28. The School District of Philadelphia needs an elected school board as opposed to an appointed SRC.

Poverty and race are discussed in important articles like The Exceptionalism of Two Americas by Will Bunch and books like Reign of Terror by Diane Ravitch or anything ever written by Kozol. An article by Trymaine Lee provides the data connected to the dire outcome of school closings. 81% of the students affected by the closings in Philadelphia are Black and poor. Watch Our Schools are not for Sale by the Media Mobilizing Project and Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools. Join your voices to the many advocates, teachers, students, aupport staff, librarians, and stakeholders who are organizing and speaking out against unfair funding and much more.

I am unsure of what lies ahead with nearly six months left in the school year. There are important votes and budget announcements that require all of our attention in regard to how city council and Harrisburg will continue to deal with the school crisis in Philadelphia. This warning is not simply for those who have children in school or work in the school. This is for all of us because a poorly educated society affects us all.

On December 28, the Philadelphia Inquirer announced the pros and cons of the pending PA budget. It includes a doomsday 1.2 billion shortfall. Pensions and a possible expansion of Medicare for 500,000 Pennsylvanians are mentioned in the article. Guess what is not included in the highlights? Any full funding for education or any possible funding formula for public education. Happy 2014!

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