May 26 — 2:50 am, 2011

Parents loud and clear at Council budget hearing

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You could hear the crowd all the way in North Jersey from yesterday’s City Council hearing on the District’s 2011-12 budget.

Hundreds of people and about 130 speakers – among them many parents – packed into Council chambers asking the mayor and councilmembers to figure out a way to put back $600 million dollars set to disappear in part, due to Harrisburg’s state budget cuts.

The hearing drew parents from across the city, "including from Duckrey School in North Philadelphia; Greenfield in Center City; John S. Jenks in Chestnut Hill; Shawmont in Roxborough; Bache-Martin in Fairmount; Meredith in Queen Village; and C.W. Henry in Mt. Airy."

Among them was a dad with two kids in District schools named Kevin Johnson. Johnson, who is pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church in North Philadelphia, said, "Our children are caught in the middle of this debate."

Likewise Danita Bates, a parent activist at Duckrey Middle School chimed in. Taking a swipe at Imagine 2014, which is relatively unscathed in the budget crisis, Bates quipped. "How can I imagine 2014 when I fear 2011 so much?"

Amid the candor, Ann Guise, interviewed by NewsWorks, wasn’t that impressed with parent turnout, “Why there aren’t parents protesting and shutting the city down I don’t know.”

Guise runs BrightWorks Initiative, part literacy campaign, part tutoring, and part leadership skills for kids K-12. She is herself an old-school activist and former member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s.

But despite Guide’s disappointment, parents made sure council and mayor understood their displeasure with how the budget deficit is being handled, specifically the targeting full-day kindergarten, art and music instruction, and cuts to individual school budgets.

When Gov. Corbett presented his FY 2011-12 state budget Mayor Nutter said:

"I am very concerned about what the proposals outlined today mean for Philadelphia’s students… I am concerned about the elimination of the School District’s Accountability Block Grant, which we have used in Philadelphia to provide full day kindergarten services.”

The city provides a third of the District’s $3.2 billion dollar budget.

Meanwhile there may be money to restore the funding.

The state reportedly is running a $500 million revenue surplus and declined to tax the lucrative natural gas drilling and exploration companies. Nutter put Philadelphia back in the black last year with across-the-board cuts and ingenious revenue streams like the "red light” program.

Don’t be surprised to see more protests, rallies, and phone banks as parents seek to gain their fair share from City Hall to plug the hole in the District budget.

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