A call to cut the cuts

Gov. Tom Corbett’s push to slash the school dis­trict budget has teach­ers in a tizzy.

“They want to cut us down to a skel­et­on crew,” For­rest teach­er Spen­cer Glass says of school dis­trict of­fi­cials.

The Phil­adelphia Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers be­lieves that the pro­posed state budget un­der­mines eight con­sec­ut­ive years of gains on stu­dent stand­ard­ized test­ing.

In ad­di­tion, the uni­on ar­gues, the cuts will slash vi­tal edu­ca­tion­al pro­grams.

The PFT, which rep­res­ents 16,000 teach­ers and sup­port staff, is hop­ing to stop Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget from be­ing ad­op­ted.

“We are lob­by­ing every­one in Har­ris­burg,” said Jerry Jordan, pres­id­ent of the uni­on.

Last week, teach­ers and staff from across the city con­duc­ted an in­form­a­tion­al pick­et­ing cam­paign.

Jordan joined the folks from Ab­ra­ham Lin­coln High School and May­fair School on the morn­ing of May 10.

Ac­cord­ing to the uni­on boss, re­duc­tions in state edu­ca­tion fund­ing would mean drastic cuts in school safety, small-class size ini­ti­at­ives, full-day kinder­garten, al­tern­at­ive edu­ca­tion pro­grams, early child­hood edu­ca­tion, trans­port­a­tion, lib­rar­ies, school nurses and coun­sel­ing.

Jordan is equally con­cerned about cuts to art, mu­sic and sports. Lin­coln last week presen­ted two pro­duc­tions of Little Shop of Hor­rors.

“Kids should be able to leave school feel­ing good about be­ing suc­cess­ful at something,” he said.

In all, Corbett has pro­posed cut­ting $1.2 bil­lion in state edu­ca­tion fund­ing. Some $292 mil­lion would come out of the School Dis­trict of Phil­adelphia’s cof­fers.

The school dis­trict is fa­cing a $629 mil­lion de­fi­cit. Many blame its lead­ers for do­ing a poor job of plan­ning ahead, know­ing that fed­er­al stim­u­lus money would come to an end.

Corbett’s pro­posed ba­sic edu­ca­tion sub­sidy would place fund­ing levels at pre-stim­u­lus 2008-09 levels. In his March 8 budget ad­dress to the Pennsylvania Sen­ate and House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives, he said, “Wash­ing­ton gave and Wash­ing­ton took away.”

The stim­u­lus pack­age, passed in Feb­ru­ary 2009, has gen­er­ally been in­ef­fect­ive in help­ing school dis­tricts and oth­er be­ne­fi­ciar­ies re­cov­er from the re­ces­sion.

The school dis­trict has already an­nounced it will re­duce kinder­garten to a half-day pro­gram and re­duce the num­ber of pre-kinder­garten pro­grams. More than 3,800 jobs might be elim­in­ated.

The PFT is ur­ging mem­bers and par­ents to call the Cap­it­ol switch­board to tell Corbett and state law­makers that they op­pose the cuts. The uni­on also has an on­line pe­ti­tion.

The city and state budget dead­lines are June 30. The school dis­trict’s cur­rent an­nu­al budget is $3.2 bil­lion, but it might be re­duced to $2.7 bil­lion start­ing Ju­ly 1 if fund­ing is cut.

City Coun­cil will hold budget hear­ings on May 24 and 25, and uni­on of­fi­cials are hope­ful that Coun­cil will some­how find a way to in­crease fund­ing to the school dis­trict.

Lin­coln staff last week donned PFT T-shirts and handed leaf­lets to mo­tor­ists stopped at the traffic light at Row­land and Ry­an av­en­ues. They car­ried signs with say­ings such as, “Yale or Jail?? Fund Schools Not Pris­ons.”

Louise Jordan, a spe­cial edu­ca­tion li­ais­on and Lin­coln’s PFT rep­res­ent­at­ive, held a sign that read, “Fund Our Schools Not Vouch­ers.”

Jordan has been at the school for 30 years and is the second-most seni­or teach­er. She wor­ries that non-teach­ing as­sist­ant po­s­i­tions could be elim­in­ated.

“We have to keep NTAs to keep the school safe,” she said.

In ad­di­tion, Jordan is a former vol­ley­ball and bas­ket­ball coach, and she doesn’t want to see ju­ni­or varsity ath­let­ic pro­grams elim­in­ated.

The new Lin­coln build­ing is 2 years old, and the school dis­trict prom­ised the com­munity that it would house no more than 1,500 stu­dents. Well, en­roll­ment is about 2,000 and grow­ing.

“We’re get­ting more stu­dents than an­ti­cip­ated,” Jordan said. “Classes are packed. We need more staff. In­stead, they’re cut­ting.”

Over at Ed­win For­rest School, at 7300 Cot­tage St., staffers gathered in the school­yard. They fear the po­ten­tial loss of the Bright Fu­tures pre-school pro­gram and par­ent om­buds­man Beverly Cyl­in­der. She works with par­ents on is­sues such as ab­sence, late­ness and tru­ancy.

There are about 1,300 pu­pils in pre-school through sixth grade at For­rest, and teach­ers worry that class size will be in­creased. Right now, the lim­it is 33 pu­pils in fourth through sixth grades and 30 in kinder­garten through third grade.

Also vul­ner­able to cuts could be read­ing as­sist­ants, the nurse, coun­selors and re­cess, lunch and classrooms aides.

Spen­cer Glass, a sixth-grade teach­er and the school’s PFT rep­res­ent­at­ive, said many par­ents will have to ad­just their sched­ules if kinder­garten is cut to a half-day.

Glass said city, state and school dis­trict of­fi­cials like to see im­proved test scores, but he thinks those gains are threatened.

“They want to cut us down to a skel­et­on crew,” he said. ••

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or  twar­ing@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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