District budget / School closings

Mayor Nutter’s Door

Rebecca PoyourowMayor Nutter didn’t come out the front door of his office in City Hall last night.  I’m sure mayors have good reason to have alternate exit routes available, and it may be that he uses that other door regularly, rather than just yesterday.  I’m not sure, since I’m not in the habit of sitting outside his office.  However, I do know for sure that he didn’t come out the front door last night.

If Mayor Nutter had come out the front door of his office last night, he would have encountered our group of public schools advocates, which included several parents, a retired teacher, a former principal, the head of the Philadelphia branch of the NAACP, and a 7th grade student at a school targeted for closure.  We were sitting outside his office in order to underscore the message that thousands of Philadelphians have been trying to send to him and to the SRC over the last year:  that mass closings of Philadelphia’s public schools undermine our children’s educational prospects, compromise kids’ safety, contribute to the drop-out crisis, uproot communities, and destroy jobs and neighborhoods—all for little to no savings.

Earlier in the day, members of the NAACP, Black Clergy, Action United, and Parents United for Public Education met with the Mayor to share their data-based criticisms of the massive school closings plan.  They presented an analysis of what mass closings would do to the city and suggested alternate pathways for city leadership to take in order to prevent the massive disruption of students’ educations and further damage to neighborhoods.

Sitting in the hall outside the Mayor’s office, I sat wishing we had city leaders who would consider the broad impact of such sweeping disinvestment—and propose alternatives.

  • Why does Philadelphia have to pursue such cut-rate, imitative policy?
  • Why are we being forced to buy into this mass school-closing plan, copied from other cities where it has already flopped?
  • When we have data from other cities where such plans have proven disastrous, and when we have local data that the receiving schools are no better (and sometimes worse) than the schools Philadelphia students are being forced from, why do we have to travel down the same road?

Michael Nutter was my Councilman years ago, and I thought him a good one as he worked to create an Ethics Board in Philadelphia and fought the closing of our local libraries (back in 2005, that is).  Yet I don’t see much leadership from the Mayor’s office these days.

When it comes to public education and what Philadelphia’s march down the path of massive school closings means for our city, the Mayor has been evasive, saying decisions are in the hands of the School Reform Commission and he doesn’t want to get involved.  However, Mayor Nutter’s appointees sit on the SRC, his education advisor participates in the SRC’s deliberations, and the Mayor has gone on record saying he supports the mass school-closings plan, so it is clear that Michael Nutter is one of the key people responsible for the direction in which Philadelphia is moving with public education.

What he has not done is taken responsibility for his role.

Mayor Nutter has not adequately answered the strong, data-based criticisms of the school closings blueprint, and he has avoided addressing what will happen to our city if this plan for massive disinvestment in neighborhoods across Philadelphia proceeds.

What has been missing in this whole debate is any acknowledgment from the Mayor’s office of the negative consequences of mass school closings for our city as a whole–or any creative vision for public schools and their importance for the fabric of our city.  I would like to see the Mayor and Philadelphia’s other government officials embrace a creative vision that maintains public control, accountability, and access in our schools.

We need to find a way to harness the capacity for schools to be hubs for neighborhood cohesion and economic development, perhaps through the joint use of schools that are currently under-enrolled—arrangements in which non-profit or for-profit entities, public agencies, or civic groups pay rent to share the use of school buildings and grounds.  Considering such an idea is exciting, but it would take collaboration and innovation among city government officials, the school district, and neighborhood groups.  It would mean combining discussions of policy with the local knowledge of students, teachers, parents, and neighborhood residents.

Mayor Nutter, we need you to become the public education champion we elected you to be.  We need you to stand up for our city’s schools and neighborhoods—and we need you in Harrisburg to fight for an education funding formula that can turn things around not only for Philadelphia but for the entire state.   Please come out the front door.

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6 thoughts on “Mayor Nutter’s Door

  1. I’m less upset with Nutter than I am with Council on this. Philly’s weak mayor model means Nutter has little power at all and he’s saving any bully pulpit power he has for AVI (which is in the longterm interest of the schools). But nobody on Council is stepping up and making it a priority. The powerful council voices don’t want to alienate the money that they’ll need for a mayoral campaign. And the rest of the council is a bunch of crony lapdogs. Blackwell has been most visible on this, but she’s got nothing to offer (and damning with faint praise for the schools themselves).

    • Good points, Dave. Council could definitely have done more, although they did pass a (nonbinding) resolution in support of a moratorium on school closings. However, Nutter campaigned as a public education champion, making a big stir about creating mayoral oversight over public education in the city in the spring of 2011. He has had three appointments to the SRC over the last two years and put nonvoting mayoral advisors on it as well. His education advisor has access to discussions and decision-making the public is never privy to. The issue for me is that he is taking ownership neither of how much he *is* driving public education policy in this city, nor of the consequences for neighborhoods across the city that will suffer from this huge disinvestment.

  2. Pingback: Will Public Education in Philadelphia Die Today? | Diane Ravitch's blog

  3. Pingback: Philly Today, Pittsburgh Tomorrow | Yinzercation

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