On Monday, January 19th, the nation will celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King. In Philadelphia, a broad-based coalition will remember the drum major for justice by reclaiming his legacy and marching for justice, jobs and education.
The #ReclaimMLK coalition is moving beyond the sanitized version of Dr. King (Full Disclosure: I’m a member of the planning committee). We are taking back the King Holiday and organizing MLK D.A.R.E. (MLK Day of Action, Resistance and Empowerment). At least 10,000 demonstrators are expected to take to the streets on the day of action and agitation.
The #ReclaimMLK coalition’s demands include an end to stop-and-frisk, an independent police review board, a $15-an-hour minimum wage, a fair funding formula for public schools and a democratically-elected school board.
It’s only fitting that we open our doors in light of the role of the Black Church during the Civil Rights Movement. In fact, our founder Bishop Richard Allen opened these doors in 1817 for the first large scale, national demonstration of free African Americans.
If the School District had planned ahead last year, perhaps 12-year-old Laporshia Massey would be alive. A sixth grade student at Bryant Elementary, Laporshia died three weeks into the school year after suffering an asthma attack at her school where there was no nurse on the premises.
More than 30 percent of children between the ages of 5 to 12 in West Philly have been diagnosed with asthma. So it was reasonable to expect a child would suffer an asthma attack or otherwise get sick while at school. Yet there was no plan to deal with medical emergencies.
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.
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 disinvestment 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.”
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.
WPDC is a nonprofit organization whose members include Yorktown homeowners and residents, William Penn alumni, North Central Philadelphia community stakeholders and supporters of quality public education.
In 2009, William Penn was temporarily closed. Then-School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman promised the community the school would be refurbished and reopened in 2014.
Instead, the School Reform Commission put the school up for sale. The School District has not engaged the community regarding community needs and priorities. Nor has it communicated market and property realities.
The Public School Code requires the School District to hold a public hearing on the question of the permanent closing of a public school building at least three months prior to the decision of the SRC to permanently close a school.
That didn’t happen. In a single resolution on June 19, 2014, the SRC voted to suspend the public hearing provision, permanently close William Penn and approve the sale of William Penn to Temple.
WPDC member Tyrone Reed said:
We do not want anyone to think that Yorktown is for sale. We are out to let everyone know that we are not going to stand idly by and let Temple University, or anyone else, come into our community and dictate what they want to do.
Temple and the elected officials who remain silent in the face of community opposition should have seen this coming. North Central Philadelphia has always been the launching pad for movements of resistance by black Philadelphians. So it’s not surprising the strongest opposition to the rapid displacement of indigenous people is coming out of North Central Philly.
Yorktown residents are highly organized. After all, they are fighting to protect their home values and their community’s peace and quiet. They have fought Temple before. And won.
Temple has refused to meet with Yorktown homeowners and residents who live less than 200 feet from the property. Yorktown residents will not be bamboozled and allow Temple to determine who speaks for the community.
Philadelphia’s traditional public schools are in a death spiral. While public school children are warehoused in schools with no nurses or guidance counselors, school leaders and City Council are throwing shade on each other over who’s to blame for the financial crisis.
At a news conference, Philadelphia School Superintendent William Hite Jr. threw down the gauntlet:
Let’s stop acting like these are other people’s children. They are our children. Today we’re asking City Council to save the children of Philadelphia from significant budget cuts.
City Council President Darrell Clarke posted his response on Facebook:
For the fourth consecutive year, City Council has voted to increase funding for the School District of Philadelphia. But instead of talking about how best to utilize new revenues to improve education outcomes, the District is dealing with a current-year budget deficit of its own making. Last fall, City Council authorized an additional $50 million at the request of Superintendent Hite. The School District then proceeded to leave that $50 million on the table.
Considering City Council is the only funding authority that has consistently increased revenues for the state-controlled School District of Philadelphia over the last four years, this disrespect toward City taxpayers is disturbing and unfair. While other large cities are enhancing services and infrastructure following the Great Recession, the City of Philadelphia remains in perpetual recession thanks to the School District’s ongoing fiscal challenges. Instead of improving core City functions like public safety, we are looking for more ways to squeeze money from our residents to send to a School District that feels it is not accountable to us.
At a June 12th meeting with the School District of Philadelphia, WPDC was suddenly informed that the sales process has been accelerated “only” in the case of William Penn High School stating “political pressure” by City Council as the reason behind the accelerated process. WPDC aims to communicate to the public the unacceptable shift in process as well as the community’s protest of the William Penn High School being developed without community participation or consideration to the future of our beloved neighborhood, history or future.
Clarke has refused to meet with WPDC, which is comprised of Yorktown homeowners and other stakeholders who would be directly impacted by the development of the William Penn campus. Yorktown is in Clarke’s district. They are his constituents.
In this pay to play city, elected officials are playing their constituents for fools. As blues legend Bobby “Blue” Bland would say, I “pity the fool” who thinks they will not be held accountable when they come seeking votes in 2015 and beyond.