Two weeks from today, the Philadelphia School District will open the doors to buildings that are schools in name only. Traditional public schools increasingly are joyless places where children are warehoused and opportunities for learning are elusive.
Superintendent William R. Hite recently announced that schools will open on time with another $31 million in cuts:
Today, just three weeks from school opening, we once again find ourselves having to make unbelievably tough choices. As we announced more than a month ago, we have an $81 million shortfall in our current year budget, which must be closed through additional revenues or cost reductions.
For the sake of minimizing disruptions for families and for the sake of educating children, we have made the decision to make a series of additional difficult – and, hopefully, temporary – cuts in order to open schools on time.
The “temporary” cuts include:
- Fewer school police officers
- Less frequent cleaning of schools
- Fewer cleaning supplies
- Delayed repairs at schools
Hite said he hoped to “realize significant revenues from additional building sales.”
On Friday, the William Penn Development Coalition withdrew its legal action that had effectively blocked the sale of William Penn High School to Temple University. William Penn was temporarily closed in 2009. (Full disclosure: I am a member of the WPDC Executive Board.)
The decision to withdraw its lis pendens was in recognition that WPDC had exhausted that legal remedy. WPDC President Inez Henderson-Purnell said in a statement:
We fought the good fight. With this action, the sale of William Penn to Temple University will go forward. But the fight to save William Penn is broader than one school. William Penn has become a metaphor in the struggle to ensure our children have access to high quality traditional public schools.
Sadly, we are witnessing death by a thousand cuts.
In the late ‘90s, my mentor Milton Bins took me on a site visit to William Penn. Now deceased, Milton was a longtime advocate for public education with the Council of the Great City Schools.
Back in the day, William Penn was a highly successful school. Its death is an object lesson on what happens when a school is systematically and deliberately stripped of resources. The building becomes a shadow of its former glory. WPDC Treasurer Priscilla Woods observed:
William Penn is a cautionary tale about what happens when a school is deprived of resources. The School District of Philadelphia’s divestment led to the death of the 1st Governor’s School of Excellence at William Penn, which was the best equipped educational facility of its day with five academic academies.
We now see this happening districtwide. In September, schools will open with even fewer resources than “the inadequate and insufficient resources schools had last year.”
Woods’ concerns were underscored by state Sen. Vincent Hughes who last week released a report on conditions in Philadelphia public schools. In a statement, Hughes said:
While I am grateful that students and parents will not have to deal with the disruption of our public schools opening late, I am deeply concerned that the continued lack of adequate funding will further erode conditions in our classrooms. The cuts that were announced today, as well as the ongoing insecurity given the lack of additional funds from Harrisburg, are simply unacceptable. The lack of commitment to our public schools in Philadelphia and across the Commonwealth has become a national embarrassment.
We already know that current funding levels are not enough to create an environment to prepare our students for the challenges of the 21st Century. Conditions in our public schools were deplorable last year and now the system is gearing up for a repeat at best, with likely even less funding and more cuts to vital programs. We cannot expect our children to shine academically while providing them with such woefully inadequate resources.
Had enough? If you care about our children, bear witness to what’s happening in your school. Let your voices be heard.
For more info about the town hall meeting, go here.