Press Release: Schools will open but are they schools?

(On Friday, Superintendent William Hite, after weeks of speculation, announced that the Philadelphia schools will open on time. He also announced another $30 million in additional proposed cuts. An SRC vote on reducing SEPTA transpasses for high school students will be on Thursday.)

Parents United for Public Education appreciates Superintendent William Hite’s stand to support just funding for Philadelphia’s schools. We believe schools should open – but not at any cost.

As parents, we expect to hear a clear message about educational learning, objectives and investment for our children. We expect the District to open schools with the essential staff and resources needed for an appropriate – as well as safe – learning environment. We did not hear that message Friday.

Instead for the second year in a row, the District has chosen to appease political leadership and open schools under circumstances any educator would find appalling. Money for textbooks, paper and supplies has been essentially zeroed out. Our libraries remain mostly closed or unstaffed. Essential staff – counselors , nurses and safety aides – are below subsistence levels. Schools with high immigrant populations lack appropriate bilingual staff to meet their needs. A district that once had vibrant bilingual programs in multiple languages across the city, now is reduced to only five elementary level Spanish programs.

On Friday, the Superintendent announced another $30+ million in school cuts, including the loss of student transpasses and a reduction in cleaning services.

The current level of staffing and resources is not just inadequate. We do not believe our schools are truly safe nor do they provide a “thorough and efficient” level of educational services as required by the Pennsylvania constitution. No other District in this Commonwealth is being subjected to such abuses. There is no question this is due to the consequence of deliberate and intentional neglect by the state of Pennsylvania and our broader political leadership.

We are deeply concerned by millions of dollars in proposed cuts which go into effect in September. In particular, we are concerned about the impact of cutting 7,500 high school students from the transportation program. Thousands of students will now be forced to walk up to four miles back and forth from school or pay a minimum of $810 per year per child for public transportation. The District is dumping this last minute announcement on families who have little time for alternative arrangements and without having conducted appropriate impact studies. We learned the consequences of having students traverse unfamiliar neighborhoods in the wake of 24 school closings. We should not be repeating those same mistakes again. We call upon the Superintendent and the School Reform Commission to maintain the current 1.5 mile requirement.

We ask our civic, business and faith community to join parents in raising a united voice to demand that our state legislature and city take immediate action on school funding and assure appropriate services in schools. Whether or not the cigarette tax passes, our schools will likely not be able to finish the year without significant additional funds. The cigarette tax is part of what we need for new revenue, but it is nowhere near a solution.

Rather than settle for the least possible, our children deserve what districts around the state provide as a matter of routine. The fact we have to remind our leaders of this basic responsibility is to their enduring shame.