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TAG community budget forum Wednesday

By Guest blogger on Mar 22, 2011 11:37 AM

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.

Check out or contact Joe Ciesielski at to RSVP or if you have any questions.

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Comments (6)

Submitted by Krysia (not verified) on March 23, 2011 9:29 am

The budget crisis is very upsetting to the staff at my school. Teachers are wondering if they will be getting the axe and feeling totally insecure. This is unfortunate because it can have direct effect on students. They also feel insecure and wonder if there school will even exist next year.
What can be done to prevent major layoffs? Perhaps certain classes could be larger. Another possibility would be for all teaching staff to actually teach. This would include roster people, lead teachers and coaches. Additionally, special ed classes of 4 or 5 students could be absorbed into a larger class. Another possibility for the school district to save money would be retirement incentives to teachers at the top of the pay scale. In order postpone the cost, the school district could offer the retirement bonus over a five year period. In the meantime, the teachers who at the lower end of the pay scale could keep their jobs and the senior teachers could retire with dignity.

Submitted by Meg (not verified) on March 23, 2011 9:48 am

The budget issues are upsetting to all of us. At all ends of the pay scales there are fears and doubts. Combining special ed classes cannot be randomly done, however - there cannot be a big age spread in these classes - some IEP's do not mix well with others - and how the IEP's themselves are written will limit the combinations available. Not to mention that some of these kids have been pulled out for the benefit of the entire educational program in the first place. Some children must have that small setting and we would be doing everyone at the site a disservice by combining the classes involved.
I think all budget issues need to start with those not in classrooms - yeah - coaches, roster people, etc. are one place to start, after the excess from 440 has been chopped.

Submitted by Mark (not verified) on March 23, 2011 12:12 pm

What constitutes "massive layoffs" with teachers? Saying that anyone with less than three years in the district will be let go is silly - that would be like 3,000 teachers, I think.
So how many teachers - just TEACHERS - are they looking to let go, I wonder. I guess mostly elementary teachers...

Submitted by Krysia (not verified) on March 23, 2011 1:54 pm

The School District will layoff as many teachers as possible. They may not lay off teachers in hard to fill areas such as math or science. Don't forget, they will not need as many teachers because the teachers in charter schoolsfill their own positions.

The reality is that they may increase class size, consolidate schools and decrease the offerings to students. Teachers in non teaching position will be returned to the classroom. Teachers will be moved to schools based upon seniority. You will have no guarantee that you will have a position and, even if you manage to hold on to a job, you most likely would not remain in the same school. The only solution would be for the school district to offer an incentive for teachers who have attained senior career status and are earning $90,000 a year. This would enable the school district to KEEP two teachers at a lower salary scale. If the state passes a law regarding seniority, it wouldn't occur in time for next year and it still wouldn't guarantee the positions of new teachers.

It is an unfortunate time. Unemployment is high and teachers are being dropped because of Renassance schools and charters.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 24, 2011 6:52 am

I wonder what the teacher/student ratio is at the Promise Academies and Renaissance schools. I know of one teacher who has @ 10 students in an 8th gr. class in a Promise Academy. I can only speculate that all have such tiny class sizes. With such a budget shortfall, I don't see how that can continue, at the cost of every other student in the district.

Also, it is interesting that no longer can you view on the SDP website the staff at each school. We are truly in the Dark Ages of education. Renaissance, my foot.

Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on March 24, 2011 10:12 am

 I think it varies considerably from school to school.   Dunbar with an enrollment of a couple hundred students has very small classes but that is probably exceptional.   None of this is likely to survive the budget cuts in spite Ackerman's assertions that her "Imagine 2014" programs are off limits.

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