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Enon meeting draws upwards of 2,000 people

By Dale Mezzacappa on May 9, 2012 03:00 PM

After a long day at City Council, Pedro Ramos, Thomas Knudsen, and Penny Nixon sped to Northwest Philadelphia on Tuesday night to face about 2,500 people at the city's largest African American religious congregation, Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church.

In the vast sanctuary, their faces projected on TV screens, the three officials faced dozens of pointed questions regarding plans for the future of education in Philadelphia that made Council's questions look easy.

The 15,000-member church held the meeting "because we are pro-public education and we are concerned about the direction that the state and the SRC [School Reform Commission] have taken," said Pastor Alyn E. Waller in a later interview.

"We felt we could bring more people to the table than at SRC meetings and help them see how many resources are available in the community to assist in the process."

He added, "We also wanted them to see there's just not a lot of good public support for the plan as it presently is."

Waller, who is also the assistant wrestling coach at Martin Luther King High School, said there was no intention to put the school officials on the spot – but that's what happened. Waller said he was primarily disappointed because there was little discussion about how the state bears responsibility for underfunding public education.

For instance, Knudsen, the District's chief recovery officer, who was asked more than a dozen questions about finances, said he was trying to fill some of the vast budget gaps – about $20 million remaining this year, at least $200 million next year – by collecting delinquent property taxes owed the city.

"The taxpayers of Philadelphia owe the District about $250 million. You'll be hearing a lot about that from me, 'please pay your bill, it’s going to help the kids get an education next year,'" Knudsen said.

Waller said he couldn't believe Knudsen said that, given that lack of action by the state legislature had cost the state $300 million in lost revenue from gas drilling taxes.

"It kind of came across as blaming the victim," Waller said.

Parent activist Helen Gym (also a Notebook board member), who also spoke, immediately blasted Knudsen.

"We've paid our bills. We've fought for a good education for our children," Gym said. "Any public official who says we have to live within our means is not a public official concerned about our children."

City Council had also expressed concern that the SRC was not sufficiently lobbying Harrisburg for more funds.

When asked about the superintendent search, Ramos, the SRC chair, said there were 30 applicants, 50 others whose names had been submitted, and 10 candidates interviewed so far. The plans are to have someone hired by July and on board by September, he said.

Waller said he had heard that Knudsen may get a contract extension and that the answer was not sufficiently responsive.

Enon's membership includes some of the city's most influential educators, including Nixon, the District's chief academic officer, and Cassandra Jones, former acting chief academic officer. Jones was one of the meeting's major organizers.

After the public presentation, the vast throng divided up into discussion groups. Their suggestions will be compiled in two weeks and made public, Waller said.

Meetings like this "are only as productive as the next step," Waller said.

"What we need to do is distill this information and get it into the public discourse and dialogue."

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Comments (9)

Submitted by Veteran of the West Philadelphia "Renaissance" (not verified) on May 9, 2012 5:51 pm

This is heartening -- 2000 people (and that is probably the tip of the iceberg from what I am beginning to understand.) Good going, Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church!!

Submitted by A Concerned Citizen (not verified) on May 10, 2012 5:00 pm

The only chance we have against this big money takeover is the Power of Numbers and we better use it long and loud. We need to force this corruption to stop by any means necessary.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 9, 2012 6:13 pm

The SRC lied during the whole presentation and used language that we didn't understand.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 9, 2012 8:29 pm

This is heartening. We need to keep moving forward, keep asking the SRC to PROVE that they are really asking Corbett for funding.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 10, 2012 7:15 am

Interesting. Historical amnesia strikes again. Cassandra Jones organized the Enon meeting? First of all she wants to be the next Superintendent. Okay. But secondly, as interim CEO she defended the "diverse provider" model. So, is she really opposed to privatization or does she just want the ability to hook up her own friends?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 10, 2012 8:12 am

Cassandra Jones also was put out of Baltimore because she was such a bad administrator. She is of the past and has an autocratic style.

We need someone who can lead us forward with a collaborative mentality. She is from the crew that got us taken over in the first place. Not many of us were impressed by her management.

Sorry, we need to move forward, not backwards.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 10, 2012 9:12 am

Noone but Cassandra Jones knows her motivation for helping to organize the meeting. I also applaud the fact that over 2,000 people (majority African American) came out to learn more about and voice their views on the proposals. There were both positive and negative comments shared. There really is a diversity of opinion in the Black community; we can think similar to or independent of Cassandra Jones.

Submitted by A Concerned Citizen (not verified) on May 10, 2012 5:16 pm

Yes, Ms. Jones tried earnestly to play both sides of every argument in Baltimore so she ended despised by both sides for very valid reasons. She's the prototypical snake in the grass who cares only about herself. Can you say, Randi Weingarten??

Submitted by king student (not verified) on May 10, 2012 2:03 pm

i think the article is very good , i do think parents should start getting more involved if more parents get involved the schools would be better parents should especially get involved in high schools they would get a chance to speak your mind and the principle and teachers could use your ideas

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