by Mark McHugh
Members of the Philadelphia Student Union and the faith-based organizing group POWER conducted a boisterous rally in front of Gov. Corbett’s Philadelphia headquarters on Friday afternoon.
Several hundred protesters were there to object to the “doomsday” budget that the School Reform Commission recently enacted due to insufficient revenue. They marched from LOVE Park, past City Hall, to Corbett's office at 200 S. Broad St.
The District budget has a $304 million shortfall.
“School is going to be more like a prison,” said Sharron Snyder, a junior from Benjamin Franklin High School.
The crowd made a ruckus on South Broad Street outside the Hyatt at the Bellevue hotel, holding signs, chanting, and cheering as passing cars blared their horns in support. Snyder and others said they were not sure that Corbett was listening.
“I know they hear our voices but I honestly don’t think they’re listening to us, but they should. ... We deserve better.”
To close the budget gap, Superintendent William Hite laid off more than 3,800 workers, the vast majority of them based in schools. They include all counselors and secretaries, more than 600 teachers, and all support staff. On Friday, 76 administrators got pink slips.
“They’re telling us that they [the children] need to get an education, but how can they?” said Patricia Jackson-Briggs, mother of a 4th grader at Nebinger Elementary. “How will they go to college? The counselors aren’t there to help them.”
Without the laid-off workers, parents like Jackson-Briggs will be forced to make difficult sacrifices in order to fill in the gaps.
“I will have to take a lot of time off work to be at the school,” Jackson-Briggs said.
Members of POWER, which is fighting justice issues on several fronts in Philadelphia, made their presence felt at the protest.
“For Judaism, education is an essential value for us,” said Rabbi Eli Friedman of Congregation Rodeph Shalom, a member of POWER. “We believe so strongly that education is one of the keys to society. ... We believe everybody deserves equal treatment and equal education, across our city and across our state.”
Friedman suggested that Corbett is vulnerable as he runs for re-election because of his lack of support for funding schools.
“If he knows what’s good for him, he is [listening],” Friedman said. “Elections are coming up soon ... and I sure as heck am not going to be voting for him.”
Also on Friday, several dozen protesters on several issues confronted Corbett himself after he made a speech at the Franklin Institute. The governor brushed past them and got into his car without answering any questions.
Mark McHugh is an intern at the Notebook.
Video by Amy Yeboah.