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Public not happy with District budget scenarios

By Paul Jablow on May 1, 2014 11:47 AM
Photo: Charles Mostoller

As the angry crowd of parents, principals, teachers, and other public education advocates filed out of Wednesday night’s School Reform Commission budget hearing, SRC Chair Bill Green gave a capsule summary of what he said moments earlier.

“It’s immoral what’s happening to the students,” he said. “It’s unfair what’s happening to the teachers.”

The two-hour hearing on the District’s 2014-15 school budget included a grim presentation of the District’s financial picture by Chief Financial Officer Matthew J. Stanski and a flood of critical testimony, mostly from parents and educators.

Stanski said that the District needs $216 million in new money just to maintain last year’s bare-bones level of services. Superintendent William Hite said that lacking this, schools will be “empty shells” when opening next year. More than 1,000 more teachers and support personnel would be laid off, class sizes would increase to as high as 41, and there would less money for such things as special education services and transportation.

More than two-dozen speakers criticized and shouted at Hite and the SRC for making unwise choices with the resources they had and failing to fight hard enough for more.

Several called for a version of educational civil disobedience: Either refuse to open the schools with the money they now have or open them at full strength and close them when the money runs out.

“This year’s school budget is not just a disgrace -- it’s dangerous,” said Jessica Brown, principal of the Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush.

“Yes, there is the physical danger due to the lack of adults in a school to supervise. … But what I also mean as dangerous is the incredible disadvantage that the students in Philadelphia are experiencing right now and will continue to experience without proper funding.”

Karen Thomas, principal of Cook-Wissahickon Elementary in Roxborough, described running the school of 460 K-8 students without a guidance counselor, dean of students, and other support staff.

“This left me to manage the entire school virtually alone,” she said. “Crises were managed by me and anyone else on my school team who may have been on a prep period.”

She called for opening the schools with an adequate budget, running them as long as possible, and then shutting them down.

As angry as the speakers were at the lack of money, many were equally upset at how the District spends what it has, particularly on consultants, more charter schools, and central administrative staff. The District is opening three new high schools in the fall. It could turn two District schools over to charter operators and has projected those could cost $4,000 per student more than what it spends now. It has also recently added a director of recruitment at a $90,000 annual salary.

“You got a three-year grant from the Carnegie Foundation to start three new high schools and you have stripped so many staff positions from Bartram High School that the school starts to melt down,” said Karel Kilimnik, a member of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools.

“You just spent $175,000 to develop school progress report cards for underfunded schools and you could not find $70,000 to keep a 31-year partnership at Bodine High School?” she asked.

Alison McDowell, a Masterman parent and vocal critic of the District’s expansion of charter schools, said that “token beams of sunshine funneled through the Philadelphia School Partnership to a short list of ‘innovators’ function as a convenient distraction from the maelstrom of disinvestment taking place.”

She described the current funding system as “institutionalized child abuse.”

Other speakers expressed support for teachers, saying they are being, in the words of one parent, “bullied” into making sacrifices the city and state won’t.

In remarks before he adjourned the meeting, Green sharply disagreed. “I don’t think we’re in the position of attacking teachers,” he said.  

“They are holding the schools together,” he said. “And the principals as well.”

None of the other commissioners commented or asked questions of District staff.

Green said it was “disgraceful” that the District was in the position of seeking work-rule concessions from teachers without financial compensation, “but that’s where we are.”

“We are upset” about the current situation, he said. “We are outraged. We are disgraced.”

He pledged continued efforts to get additional funding from the state and City Council, where he served until being named SRC chairman in February.

He said that he had expected at that time to be working to improve the system, not facing the same dire budget-cutting situation as in 2013-14.

But in her testimony, Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush principal Brown said that the fall of 2014 would not be the same as last year.

“For one year, we could pull it off,” Brown said.

“Any more, I shudder to think about it. Students and parents are going to leave the District.”

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Comments (18)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 1, 2014 12:48 pm
Does our friend Bill Green even give a damn? He ought to call his sponsor Corbett/Zogby and ask for more money from the state and not the PFT. Remember this is an election year.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 1, 2014 10:53 pm
How perceptive of Principal Brown: Students and parents ARE going to leave the District - and it will be the more prosperous denizens leading the way. Parents from Greenfield and Meredith and McCall and Central and the like will be in the forefront of the exodus because they can afford to be. They will wipe the dust of Philadelphia from their heels and flee to adequately funded school districts in Montgomery and Bucks and Chester counties and the tax base of Philly will take a hit the likes of which it has not experienced since the "great white flight" of the early seventies. Then farewell to adequately staffed police and fire departments and trash removal services and libraries and health clinics and - oh, gee! - all sorts of nice things. Philly will degenerate into Detroit on the Delaware and it will take generations to recover - if it ever does. Property values will plummet as pot-holed streets become utterly impassable, empty lots become strewn with mountains of uncollected garbage, broken streetlights go unrepaired, and crime skyrockets. When the only way for the desperate and destitute "left behind's" to make a few bucks is to break into derelict buildings and steal the copper fittings, then the rapacious poobahs in City Council and at 440, having sucked the heart and soul out of the City of Brotherly Love, will move on to greener pastures and fresher victims. I spent two years in South Africa and several years in Detroit and if there's one thing I learned to recognize from the experience, it's the the smell of impending cataclysm. Oh yes, indeedy, folks - life in Philly is really a dilly ... and the band played on.
Submitted by Paul Socolar on May 1, 2014 1:00 pm

Here's the audio of Bill Green's closing remarks about the immorality of the situation - and crowd response - from Wednesday night's budget hearing.

 

Submitted by Education Grad ... on May 2, 2014 12:11 am
Bill Green said with regard to the impending budget cuts, "We have no choice." That statement is a LIE, plain and simple. If "we have no choice," why did the SRC approve the opening of three new high schools? If "we have no choice," why did the District hire a new recruitment director for a salary of $90,000? If "we have no choice," why did the SRC approve the proposal for two new Renaissance charter schools, even though the District will incur stranded costs from the turnover of Marin-Munoz and Steel to charter management organizations? These stranded costs will add to the debt service or charter school or overhead costs that keep eating away at more of the District's budget. From an economic standpoint, people make trade-offs when allocating scarce resources. The SRC and Dr. Hite have traded transformation for stabilization. The preference for transformation tells a great deal of the priorities of the current administration and SRC. Preserving even the bare-bones status quo at District-run schools which already exist is clearly not a priority, and that is deeply disturbing. Some people tell themselves the same lie over and over again that it start to becomes their truth. Bill Green falls into this category.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 1, 2014 1:15 pm
How much of his/her own money is Bill Green putting in the pot? Farah Jimenez? Or any other SRC member? How many of Hite's people took pay cuts even though everyone thought they were supposed to?
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on May 1, 2014 1:10 pm
Jimenez' husband's law firm works for Mastery. Enough said.
Submitted by Veteran of the West Philadelphia "Renaissance" (not verified) on May 1, 2014 4:47 pm
Dumb question -- shouldn't that disqualify her from being on the SRC? Conflict of interest?
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on May 1, 2014 4:47 pm
It should have but this is Philadelphia. Corbett appointed her - enough said.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 1, 2014 2:46 pm
I have a really stupid question: If the funding in Philly schools per child is average for what all the other districts spend (not as much as the wealthy burb schools, but they are only a small portion of the 501 districts in the state) why are the schools here in such bad shape? Where is all that money going? I know that kids are needier because of poverty, but my sense is that those needs are not being met--so, again, where is all that money going?
Submitted by tom-104 on May 1, 2014 2:35 pm
Where did you ever get the idea that spending per student in Philadelphia is the same as the rest of the state? Philadelphia ranks 197th in spending per pupil. "While the statewide average is $12,391 per student, spending by district varies widely. No. 1 on the list is Lower Merion Township, which spent $22,140 per student in 2011. The lowest is the tiny Mt. Carmel School District in Northumberland County, which spent $8,585 per student in 2011." http://tinyurl.com/kxcqu55 And then there is this: Report says recent state funding trends hit poorer districts hardest http://tinyurl.com/pghee75
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 1, 2014 3:11 pm
The Philly average is $13947/child (10527 for charters/15789 for district schools. You're not Lower Merion, but we'll above the state average.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 1, 2014 4:43 pm
Remember that the district is spending $1 billion dollars of its budget on charters and paying down the deficit run up in other years...When you add benefits and pensions your talking about perhaps 60% of the budget spent on things other than the students....also with high numbers of ILP, high poverty, ESL students,what a school needs and is expected to do is more then what is happening on average district in other parts of the state. i think is a waste but the real issue is the structure costs that weigh down the district. They will have to find a way to pay down debt and close low or not above district average performing charters to start to free up funds...I think depending on the state gov to save us is a mistake as I think local control unless the Board or SRC were given taxing powers like every other school board in the state...
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on May 1, 2014 4:23 pm
Charters have more to spend per student - $10,137 for District Schools and $10,378 for Charters. It is MYTH that charters have less. The District assumes many costs (e.g. transportation). See http://thenotebook.org/blog/146865/masch-claim-charters-get-less-per-stu...
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 1, 2014 5:52 pm
Sorry if I don't believe a single word that comes from Masch's mouth. The district said charters cost $700 mil. It impossible for the district to have less than charters. Charters get about 75% Of the district average and the balance stays at the district. The net about 50% more than charters.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 1, 2014 6:14 pm
Charters are given more money per student not less
Submitted by Philly public T (not verified) on May 1, 2014 7:57 pm
Thank you for the audio Paul. I am struck by his apparent assumption that there would not be a funding crisis this year. This concerns me greatly as it seems to point to his lack of awareness of the dynamics of the situation or that his remark was disingenuous. The reactions and panicky tone of his comments make me wonder for how long there will be an SRC from which he might resign.
Submitted by Lisa Haver on May 1, 2014 9:11 pm
"None of the other commissioners commented or asked questions of District staff." Think about that for a minute. No commissioner answered any of the concerns of any of the speakers. No commissioner asked Matt Stanski any questions about the budget. Mr. Green did not answer any of the direct questions asked of him by speakers. But there was time for Mr. Green to chastise parents, teachers, community members--even principals--for trying to do something to stem the tide.
Submitted by Go-Eagles (not verified) on May 1, 2014 9:54 pm
I've seen the arguments here about per pupil spending. I pulled this thread from the Notebook archives from January 2014 (once again - January 2014) comparing charter school vs. district school per pupil spending. Since Mr. Masch is a former CFO of the district and based upon his explanation and analysis, I would give him the benefit of the doubt. http://thenotebook.org/blog/146865/masch-claim-charters-get-less-per-stu...

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