Doomsday for education in Philadelphia

May 30 protest.WW photo: Joseph Piette

May 30 protest.
WW photo: Joseph Piette

The School Reform Commission of the School District of Philadelphia voted May 30 to pass its “Doomsday” budget. This budget included no money for new books, paper, student clubs, counselors, secretaries, librarians, assistant principals or cafeteria support staff for the next school year. Also not funded are all athletics, art and music programs. This budget impacts over 3,000 jobs.

Over 1,500 teachers, staff, parents and students rallied outside the District headquarters in an action called by the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools. Unions present included the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, school cafeteria workers union UNITE HERE Local 634 and Service Employees union 32BJ. Also present were the student organizations, Youth United for Change and the Philadelphia Student Union.

The struggle for public education has become the fight for the future of Philadelphia. This is the third major demonstration in just over three weeks. The first two were massive student walkouts involving several thousand students from dozens of schools on May 7 and May 17. Uniting the students, community and parents in the spirit of the militant Chicago Teachers Union, the most recent rally again showed the power of solidarity.

The demands of the PCAPS include ending funding for new cyber charter schools, negotiating for a fair teacher contract, passing a statewide moratorium on prison construction, taxing profitable nonprofit entities like the University of Pennsylvania Hospital System, returning to school funding based on need and ability of districts to pay, and closing the Delaware Tax loophole that allows corporations to avoid paying taxes. (wearepcaps.org)

The money is there

The School District is over $300 million short in funding for the next school year. At the same time, the district will be paying $280 million in debt service to the big banks for past loans, $157.9 million of which just goes to pay off the interest on a variable-rate interest loan. This debt is ten times higher than the nationwide school district average (www.citypaper.net/news, May 30).

To fill the gap, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter plans to raise $95 million for schools by taxing cigarettes and alcohol, thus hitting those with the least money the hardest.

Meanwhile, the School District plans to gouge the PFT of over $133 million in concessions in upcoming contract negotiations, an expectation they made fact by the passing of the Doomsday budget. This includes proposals to end seniority, immediately reduce pay for most teachers by ten percent, meanwhile piling on extra responsibilities and work for teachers, on top of losing support staff.

Superintendent William Hite is also seeking $120 million from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This is a tough sell, as the School District is 85 percent students of color and 82 percent “in need.” (www.phila.k12.pa.us)

Right-wing Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, as well as the Democrats and Republicans in the state Legislature, have shown nothing short of animosity for the people of Philadelphia, even the youth.

Yet, regardless of what either Gov. Corbett or Mayor Nutter says, there is money for education. All together, the Gross Domestic Product (the cash value of all of the wealth created) of the Philadelphia metropolitan area in 2011 was over $353 billion. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s GDP was over $500 billion. To say that there isn’t enough money for students in Philadelphia to have books, paper, teachers, counselors, libraries or any extracurriculars is a vicious, racist lie.