When his counterparts describe handing out iPads to students, Joseph Otto just tunes out the conversation.
Otto is chief operations officer of the William Penn School District in Delaware County, just across Cobbs Creek from Southwest Philadelphia. His district limps along from year to year by paring back services and staff and putting off investments in books, technology, and other classroom needs. The local school board is loath to raise taxes any higher because the district’s residents already shoulder some of the highest tax burdens in the region.
“iPads are not even an option for us,” said Otto.
“We do nothing extra. We’re just trying to survive.”
There’s a governor’s race in Pennsylvania in 2014, and education is a hot issue as Gov. Tom Corbett seeks re-election. Party primaries take place May 20 and the general election is Nov. 4.
At press time, Corbett, a Republican, and eight Democratic candidates had announced their plans to run.
An October poll conducted by Franklin and Marshall College indicates that 21 percent of respondents feel that the state of schools and school funding is the most important issue in Pennsylvania. The Corbett administration has been blamed for cuts to education funding as well as the 2011 abandonment of a statewide funding formula passed in 2008. But Corbett is not surrendering the issue to Democrats.
In a press conference announcing his bid for re-election, Corbett said, “We have a responsibility to provide a good education to all children in Pennsylvania, but it starts with an honest discussion about education funding.”
The Notebook invited each candidate to submit a biography and asked them to give their positions on state education funding by responding to the following questions in 250 words or less:
I’ve been a school nurse in Philadelphia for almost 25 years. I’ve seen lots of blood and a finger almost amputated by a door accidentally slammed. I’ve seen head injuries, seizures, and high and low blood sugar levels in diabetics.
The very worst moments I’ve experienced as a school nurse, however, are those that were spent with children who were having an asthma attack.
Response to Oct. 17 news post “SRC rejects plan to sell off art.”
The SRC is to be commended for voting not to sell the artwork which was, for all intents and purposes, stolen from District schools. [Former Superintendent] Paul Vallas and [former SRC Chair] James Nevels had no right to take it, and the way they did it was just plain ugly. They never told anyone – not even the principals – what they were about to do.
Ian Petrie is not too worried about his daughter’s school – yet.
“She’s having a great year – the art teacher she loves is back, there’s music instruction,” he said. “The school seems to be weathering the circumstances.”
But ask him how strong West Philadelphia’s Lea Elementary will be a few years from now, when his young son is ready to start, and he’s not quite so confident.
If a natural disaster – say a hurricane – were to hit Philadelphia, city leaders wouldn’t dare say, “Sorry, there’s no money.” They would find a way to respond to the urgent needs – and to pay for it.
With schools lacking basic materials and student supports, it’s disheartening that the mayor and City Council aren’t speaking up about the need to do something now to address that calamity. Do they think we can just ride out this year … or that conditions are not that bad?
As grim as things have been for public schools in Philadelphia, it is hard to fathom that the budget picture could get even worse in 2014. We’ve already seen schools so short-staffed there was doubt that they could open in September. Only lucky schools got their own counselor and nurse … and rarely, a librarian. Students are dealing with overcrowded classrooms; many can’t get the coursework they need.
In addition to their responses to our question about Pennsylvania's current approach to K-12 education funding, the nine candidates were invited to give additional explanations of their positions on school funding issues.
by Isaac Riddle
Five of the eight Democrats vying to challenge Gov. Corbett next year gathered in front of education and community groups at a candidate forum held at Temple University last Saturday.
The forum opened to chants of “whose children, our children” and “whose jobs, our jobs” by members of the audience.
Nearly three months into the school year, the School District of Philadelphia is still navigating treacherous fiscal waters, having made little progress in convincing state and city lawmakers to provide financial relief and stability.
Faced with a $304 million budget gap for this fiscal year, the District had sought $180 million in new revenues from the state and city and $133 million in labor concessions. As of mid-November, it had received $112 million in increases from the state and city, but just $17 million of that is in recurring funds. And it had reached no agreement with its unions.
As a result, it is still operating schools with shrunken staffs, sparse instructional materials, inadequate counseling services for students, and classes at their contractual maximum.