This guest blog post comes from Philadelphia public school teacher Joe Ciesielski of the Teacher Action Group.
With the recent announcement of Governor Corbett's budget plan, the School District of Philadelphia is anticipating a deficit of $456 million next year. Drastic changes are on the way. Many observers anticipate school closings, massive layoffs, significant cuts to school budgets, and an increase in class sizes. On March 23 several groups are coming together for a community budget forum to discuss how to deal with the deficit.
Despite the fact that the impact on classrooms across the District will be deep, the School District has stated that the top priority is moving ahead with the Imagine 2014 plan, expanding programs that cost the District $126 million last year. The controversial measures of the Renaissance Schools Initiative, which cost the District $20 million this year, have been expanded from 13 to 31 schools.
In a recent Notebook post, Torch Lytle suggested that it might be necessary to cut a million dollars from each school’s budget. This would cause massive disruption to every school community. The District leadership proposes to play small ball by cutting a few smaller programs here and there. This approach will not close the gap. There is simply no denying that drastic changes are needed to balance the budget of our District and ensure a quality education for all students in Philadelphia now and into the future.
Within the context of these major budget cuts to education, our state is building three new prisons at a cost of $650 million. While he proposes cutting basic education funding by $550 million, the governor has somehow found the money to increase the Department of Corrections' budget by 11 percent. With Philadelphia being by far the most affected by state cuts to education, this shows the governor's priorities for our city and sends a message to our students. We need to fully fund our schools so our students can develop into active and engaged citizens.
To deal with this budget crisis, we need a community-based solution. We need individuals from across the city to offer their ideas about what steps need to be taken. The consequences of this budget will impact all of us, and we have the right to have our say.
For this reason, Teacher Action Group (TAG) is working with ACTION United and Education Not Incarceration-Delaware Valley to organize a community budget forum. A number of knowledgeable speakers will present their views concerning the state of school closings and teacher layoffs, the Renaissance schools initiative, community involvement and the impact of these possibilities on classroom instruction. These speakers include City Controller Alan Butkovitz and State Representative James Roebuck, Democratic Chair of the House Education Committee. Other organizations will present the issues from different perspectives including the PFT, Education Law Center, and community organizing and student groups.
As a participant you will have an opportunity to have your voice heard, offer solutions, and make an appeal for essential services. Your input will not be locked away in a closet somewhere in 440. This information will be compiled into an open letter sent to the SRC, the District, and state and local legislators. Together, we will hold our leaders accountable for their decisions.
The TAG community budget forum will provide an opportunity for authentic community involvement. We must insist on having our voices heard by those that are making the decisions regarding this budget. These decisions need to be informed by community input.
The community budget forum will take place on Wednesday, March 23 at 6 p.m. at Calvary United Methodist Church, located at 48th St. and Baltimore Ave. We look forward to hearing your voice.
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