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.
Garner’s death and the police use of chokeholds have sparked outrage across the country. On Saturday, August 23rd, the National Action Network will lead a justice caravan and march to protest police brutality and the use of excessive force.
The justice caravan will travel across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in a dedicated lane on their way to Staten Island. The activists will rally at the spot where Garner was choked to death by NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo. They will then march to the office of the Staten Island District Attorney and demand that charges be brought against the cop.
Rev. Al Sharpton said:
If you want to stop chokeholds, get on the bus.
Don’t think marching matters? Think again. NAN Acting Executive Director Janaye Ingram recently wrote:
Well, I understand that the end game is not the march itself. Marching in and of itself never solved anything. Marching is a public display of solidarity around a particular issue. It’s one part of mass action that people can do to show that they are united around a specific cause.
On August 23, we will march in New York to call for action in the case of Eric Garner, the man who was killed by police after breaking up a fight.
Police officers put him in an illegal chokehold and he stopped breathing while cops and EMTs looked on without helping. It’s not the first case of overly excessive force being used by police, but we have to make it one of the last.
So we march.
We show that this is an issue that we won’t let pass by without action. We won’t just be social media activists, posting our thoughts and feelings today and then tomorrow talking about who wore it best. We have a responsibility and a role. That role is to stand united with our brothers and sisters who want to see justice served, and the more people that come, the more that people in positions of power will recognize that they need to pay attention.
Sharing “hands up” photos on social media is cathartic. But we must move beyond hashtag activism. It’s what you do offline that will bring about change.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s remarks to the 1st Berlin Jazz Festival. In the foreword to the program, Dr. King wrote:
God has wrought many things out of oppression. He has endowed his creatures with the capacity to create—and from this capacity has flowed the sweet songs of sorrow and joy that have allowed man to cope with his environment and many different situations.
Jazz speaks for life. The Blues tell the story of life’s difficulties, and if you think for a moment, you will realize that they take the hardest realities of life and put them into music, only to come out with some new hope or sense of triumph.
This is triumphant music.
Modern jazz has continued in this tradition, singing the songs of a more complicated urban existence. When life itself offers no order and meaning, the musician creates an order and meaning from the sounds of the earth which flow through his instrument.
Twenty years earlier, a jazz drummer, Joseph Rudolph Jones, triumphed over the hard reality facing black employees of the Philadelphia Transportation Company. When the PTC proposed to hire blacks as trolley car operators, the segregated Philadelphia Rapid Transit Employees Union staged a wildcat strike. As Bart Everts wrote for Hidden City Philadelphia, the illegal strike threatened the war effort:
Seventy years ago, on August 1, 1944, a faction of white transit workers with the Philadelphia Transit Company (PTC) staged a wildcat strike for a nefarious reason: they didn’t want African Americans, employed by the transit company as mechanics and laborers, to be given the same high paying jobs driving the trolleys they had.
The strike effectively shut down Philadelphia, one of the key centers of defense related manufacturing, at a crucial moment in World War II. The action halted the city’s war production, as workers were unable to get to the Navy Yard and factories throughout the city. Philadelphia was the third largest producer of war materials (about one of every six dollars spent here), and the military and federal government quickly took notice. The threat of a major disruption was so severe that the Roosevelt Administration intervened, ending the strike after a week.
When the strike ended, Jones was among the first group of African American trolley operators (Jones is second from the left).
Legendary jazz drummer Charlie Rice recounted that Jones was a multi-tasker:
Joe had a job driving a trolley car – the 21 line that extended from Chestnut Hill, at the very top of Philadelphia at the North End, all the way through the city down to South Philadelphia. That was the longest trolley ride in the city.
It ran on 11th Street, right past the Downbeat, which was on the second floor.
Joe often stopped the trolley in front of the club. He’d grab the controls, jump out, and sit in for a number or two. The people hung out the window of the trolley, growing more and more impatient. They wanted to get home, or wherever they were going. When Joe got back to the trolley, everybody would cheer, and off they’d go to South Philly.
Joe, better known as Philly Joe Jones, went on to become a modern jazz drumming legend.
Long before Philly Joe Jones became the drummer of choice for Miles Davis and John Coltrane, his trolley route went pass Coltrane’s apartment on 12th Street in North Philly. While the rowhouse where Coltrane lived when his family migrated from North Carolina is no longer there, the tracks are still visible.
The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads:
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishment inflicted.
The United States is the only country that inflicts life without parole on juveniles. In the landmark Graham v. Florida decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the imposition of life without parole for non-homicide crimes was cruel and unusual punishment for a juvenile offender.
The 2010 decision gave “juvenile lifers,” including Kenneth Young, hope for a second chance.
Tonight on PBS’s “Point of View” documentary series, you can hear his story:
In June 2000, 14-year-old Kenneth Young was convinced by a 24-year-old neighborhood crack dealer — Kenneth’s mother’s supplier — to join him on a month-long spree of four armed robberies. The older man planned the Tampa, Fla. heists and brandished the pistol—and, on one occasion, he was talked out of raping one of the victims by his young partner. Fortunately, no one was physically injured during the crimes, although the trauma that resulted was immeasurable.
When they were caught, Kenneth didn’t deny his part. It was his first serious scrape with the law. But at 15, he was tried under Florida law as an adult. Astoundingly, he received four consecutive life sentences — guaranteeing that he would die in prison. 15 to Life: Kenneth’s Story follows the young African-American man’s battle for release, after more than 10 years of incarceration, much of it spent in solitary confinement. The film is also a disturbing portrait of an extraordinary fact: The United States is the only country in the world that condemns juveniles to life without parole.
Last week, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams released the findings of the grand jury investigating the Darrin Manning case. To no one’s surprise, the grand jury “concluded that the police acted responsibly and that no criminal act was committed by any members of the police department on that day.”
To hear the cops tell it, the Jan. 7, 2014 incident was a Norman Rockwell moment.
You see, Officer Thomas Purcell wanted to stop Darrin and his teammates out of concern they were trying to get this attention:
Unsure whether the students needed help or were trying to communicate with the police, he opened his door and asked the students what they said. Officer Purcell further testified that he did not hear any response from the students; the students, including Student #1, agreed that they did not respond to the officer.
At 1:55:22 p.m., Officer Purcell activated the police lights on the van in order to perform a U-turn on the busy street. He also testified that he was performing a U-turn to further investigate whether the students were victims of or witnesses to a crime, hence their trying to get the officers’ attention.
Lewis S. Small, Darrin’s attorney, wrote in an email message:
Matthew Smith Sr., president of the Pennsylvania State Chapter National Action Network, dismissed Officer Purcell’s testimony as inconsistent with police-community relations in Philadelphia. Smith said in a statement:
It strains credulity to suggest Officer Thomas Purcell stopped in the middle of Girard Avenue out of concern the teenagers were trying to get his attention. When they ran that should have been a clue they didn’t want to talk with him. And that should have been the end of the story. But it wasn’t. Darrin Manning stopped because he knew he had done nothing wrong. Everything that followed flowed from an illegal investigatory stop.
The grand jury found the evidence doesn’t support Darrin’s claim that a white female officer grabbed and squeezed his testicle. Officer Cucinotta testified she was “physically unable to reach his genital area.”
My experience is that a man’s genital area is in easy reach no matter what he’s wearing.
Attorney Small asked:
The real question is why did they omit Darrin’s teammates’ testimony in their finding that he heard Darrin screaming that the police officer was squeezing his balls, and yet they quote him as to the resisting arrest? He corroborates Darrin’s version of the events.
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.