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  • occupy 440 protest
    Photo: Dale Mezzacappa

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As the District teeters on the edge of insolvency, schools have spent this year struggling to deal with two rounds of cuts to their budgets and school-based services. Cuts in August and again in December have sent principals scrambling to pare services without affecting the core mission of teaching and learning.

The layoff of 47 nurses in December got the most outraged attention.

At Greenfield Elementary in Center City, the nurse was cut back from five to two days a week.

"If she's not here, I'm the only one who can dispense medication," said Principal Dan Lazar. If a child doesn't feel well, he always tries to send him or her home.

"In the past, the nurse might say it's fine to go back to class, but I'm not trained to give that kind of care," he said.

In addition to that, Lazar has had to cut lunch aides and other support personnel. Several extracurricular activities have been eliminated. Some teachers are working after school without pay to advise student government and provide art and math enrichment, he said.

Nurses warned that the District was potentially endangering children by failing to have trained medical staff in buildings most of the time. Besides emergencies, nurses deal with chronic issues like obesity and asthma that plague many students.

Plus, said Lazar, the nurse "is another adult in the building."

Nurses haven't taken this passively. A core group has led protests every Wednesday in front of District headquarters, calling it "Occupy 440." They have blasted the state for cutting education aid drastically and chastised District leaders for embracing privatization instead of complaining about "this gross misallocation of resources."

Roxborough school nurse Eileen DiFranco expressed frustration that District leaders are not talking about what she called the "deliberate underfunding" of Philadelphia schools by the state and city. "Are we the only ones who care?" she asked.

She also circulated a petition of "no confidence" in Gov. Tom Corbett, whose billion-dollar cut in state education aid this year fell heavily on Philadelphia and precipitated the crisis.

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Dale Mezzacappa

@dalemezz
Dale is a contributing editor at the Notebook. She has reported on education since 1986, most of that time with The Philadelphia Inquirer.