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Philadelphia shuts eight schools

Published Apr 9, 2012 10:17 PM

After weeks of community meetings and rallies, parents, teachers and students of two high-performing Philadelphia elementary schools have won. E. M. Stanton and Isaac A. Sheppard schools will not be included on the list of eight others being shut by the School Reform Commission.

As Sheppard teacher Jamie Roberts told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “It was a victory, a lesson about fighting for what you believe in.” (March 29)

Students at Harrison, Drew and Levering elementary schools; Pepper and Sheridan West middle schools; and FitzSimons and Rhodes high schools, as well as the High School for Business and Technology, will be forced to transfer to other schools.

During a March 29 SRC meeting, Feather Houstoun, chair of the SRC’s finance committee, said that as many as “four or five dozen” additional closings could be necessary.

The school closings are being enacted in part because of the Philadelphia School District’s massive spending cuts of $600 million this year, due to reductions in state and federal education aid.

But the other driving force is the explosive expansion of charter schools, which now include more than 50,000 Philadelphia students. The SRC itself supports the privatization of public schools, describing its mission as creating a “portfolio” of district and charter schools.

The current budget has slashed music, sports, library and other vital programs, but includes $20 million “for expansions of some existing charters and for district schools to be turned over to charters.” (Philadelphia Inquirer, March 30)

School nurses and their supporters continue to hold “Occupy 440? rallies every Wednesday in front of the School District Headquarters at 440 N. Broad St. The rallies began last December in opposition to school nurse layoffs

The 2011-2012 school budget is still underfunded by $26 million. The 2012-2013 proposed budget projects a likely shortfall of $186 million, including $110 million in increased debt service to the banks. Further state education funding cuts, which will occur if state legislators approve a proposed massive voucher system, will likely increase the pain in the already cash-strapped district.

Chief Recovery Officer Tom Knudsen says the SRC will not use its state-given powers to impose terms on its five labor unions to solve this year’s budget gap. As for fiscal 2013, however, he told the Inquirer that “there clearly has to be a discussion with labor” about ways to cut costs.

Philadelphia is not alone. Running schools like businesses, using standardized tests in place of real educational instruction, eliminating union contracts and imposing unelected school oversight commissions — these same conditions are being used from coast to coast to create profitable educational industries for the benefit of the 1%.

Many education activists question whether such an environment can adequately teach the vast majority of our youth. The parents, students and teachers of the Stanton and Sheppard Schools, however, know what to do about it: organize.