Philadelphia Schools Superintendent William Hite announced Tuesday that he has shortened a list of proposed school closings from 37 to 29.
“The new recommendations call for the closure of 29 buildings, including 15 elementary schools, five middle schools, nine high schools and one lease termination,” said a news release from The School District of Philadelphia. “To accomplish the 29 building closures, the District will need to change a number of grade configurations. The new recommendations will result in an overall district building utilization rate of approximately 78 percent, a projected increase of 11 percent from the current rate of 67 percent.”
The new recommendations will result in lower projected annual savings. The district said new projections show savings will be approximately $24.5 million annually. “The district projects that it will achieve much lower savings in the first year of the closures due to the cost of relocating schools’ programs and renovating receiving schools.”
The new superintendent has received well-deserved praise for listening to opponents and making an adjustment to his initial school closings plan. Hite should be commended for addressing the problem calmly and directly at sometimes heated community meetings.
However, community leaders, parents and teachers also deserve praise for their tremendous response to the plan. The district said approximately 5,000 people attended the district’s 21 community meetings on school closings. The district also received 40 community proposals from schools, principals, community organizations and citizens.
The community’s passionate response shows the deep care and concern shared by parents, students, teachers, community leaders and clergy. They do not deserve the attack waged by some in the local mainstream media as being too emotional and unrealistic.
Most opponents of the district’s plan realize that the district can not afford to keep open severely underutilized schools or old buildings that are falling apart. Still, opponents of the plan have legitimate questions that need answers. They should continue to raise their concerns to officials on how the district will implement its school closings plan to protect student safety and to improve academic performance.
Congress must act by March 1 to avert a series of drastic mandatory budget cuts that could hurt the economy cause hundreds of thousands to lose their jobs.
At press time there was little sign of deal emerging between President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans to avert $85 billion in across-the-board budget cuts.
The president is seeking a more methodical and restrained plan for budget cutting that includes an additional tax increase. Republicans oppose any new tax revenue measures.
Failure to reach a deal could have a devastating impact on the economy’s recovery and result in severe cuts in education and social services.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan said he was increasingly worried that deep spending cuts would harm students and teachers across the country, saying that “no one in their right mind would say this is good for kids or good for the country.”
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the automatic cuts known as the sequester would require trimming $600 million this year from the Federal Aviation budget and said that would mean furloughing air traffic controllers, which said would undermine the ability to guide planes in and out of airports. Travelers could also experience 90 minute delays or more in major cities, said LaHood.
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, said state the automatic cuts could undermine gains seen by state officials in employment.
The automatic spending will mean layoffs of hundreds of thousands of federal workers unless Congress and the president reach a deal to avert them.
Republicans are insisting on more austerity despite massive spending cuts and the shedding of government jobs that have already occurred.
Many economists see the austerity measures as harmful and counterproductive.
“It’s a massive drag on the economy. We lost three-quarter million public-sector jobs in the recovery,” said economist Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute. “We’re still losing government jobs, although the pace has slowed. But we haven’t turned around yet.
States and municipalities have been the hardest hit by the recent downsizing in government. Most states have constructional requirement for balanced budgets.
Members of congress should be reminded of the deep cuts that have already occurred and to be careful what they cut. Citizens should urge their local congress people to agree to a fair and balanced deficit-reduction deal.
Gov. Tom Corbett’s effort to hire a British firm to manage the Pennsylvania Lottery has been stalled for good reason.
Attorney General Kathleen Kane has rejected the lottery contract with Camelot Global Services of which she says elements are either illegal or unconstitutional. The law allows an appeal of the attorney general to Commonwealth Court. It is likely that if Corbett appeals the determination that the case would end up in Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
State Treasurer Rob McCord has also criticized the governor’s lottery management effort at a Senate budget hearing.
“It doesn’t mean we don’t privatize things, but we can’t just use the word privatization like pixie dust and think maybe…(it will) look like a win before campaign season and everything will be fine. This is real money for senior citizens we’re talking about. And we can do better.”
McCord is right to question the contract awarding process which he noted is only a single bid to privatize lottery management. He also raised the important point that the contract’s 20-year length is also troublesome.
The fact that Corbett is Republican and Kane and McCord are Democrats does not make their criticism is politically motivated. Kane and McCord are raising legitimate concerns. A pause seems necessary on the governor’s plan.
As the governor touts the program needs to make clear what the long-term benefits are to average Pennsylvania taxpayers to privatization of the lottery as well as plans to privatize liquor sales in the state. Does the state lottery system as well as the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board really need privatization or would modernization be better? These are questions the state’s lawmakers should seriously consider.
In the end Corbett may be able to get the Republican-controlled Legislature to go along with his plans but for now questions need to be answered and the proposal and process needs closer examination.
National Rifle Association leader Wayne LaPierre’s irrational response to reasonable gun control proposals reveals the extreme position of some gun rights advocates.
LaPierre dismissed President Barack Obama’s State of the Union call for new commonsense proposals on gun regulations.
The leader of the powerful gun lobby dismissed Obama’s calls for background checks for all firearms purchases and for bans on assault weapons and ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.
“We will not be duped by the hypocrisy in the White House or the Congress who would deny our right to semiautomatic technology, and the magazines we need to defend ourselves and our families,” LaPierre said in remarks to the National Wild Turkey Federation in Nashville.
He said the proponents’ real intentions would be to “ban every gun they can, tax every gun sold and register every gun owner.”
LaPierre’s remarks are ridiculous. There is no effort by the president or Congress to “ban every gun.”
There is an effort to require universal background checks on gun purchasers.
Mark Kelly, husband of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford, who was shot in the head in 2011, said in a statement that background checks are a simple and fair way to keep children safe.
“If a dangerous criminal can’t buy a gun in a store, they shouldn’t be able to buy at a gun show or on the Internet,” he said. “That’s just common sense.”
Yet LaPierre’s comments on background checks were mild compared to the outrageous fearmongering op-ed he wrote earlier this week for a conservative website, in which he predicted the president’s economic policies will lead to chaos.
“Nobody knows if or when the fiscal collapse will come, but if the country is broke, there likely won’t be enough money to pay for police protection. And the American people know it,” La Pierre wrote.
“Hurricanes. Tornadoes. Riots. Terrorism. Gangs. Lone criminals. There are perils we are sure to face – not just maybe,” he said. “It’s not paranoia to buy a gun. It’s survival.’
LaPierre added race-baiting to his fearmongering by warning of Mexican gangs and suggesting that firearms were a necessity on the streets of Brooklyn in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy last year.
“There was no food, water or electricity,” LaPierre wrote. “And if you wanted to walk several miles to get supplies, you better get back before dark, or you might not get home at all.”
Not true said New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne.
The city actually went a record eight straight days without a single murder. Overall, crime fell by 25 percent., said Browne.
Gun rights advocates should denounce LaPierre and the NRA for shameful rhetoric that has no place in the debate over gun reform legislation.
Zero tolerance policies are coming under renewed scrutiny after parents say school officials have suspended or threatened to suspend students in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Massachusetts over minor infractions involving pretend weapons, reports the Associated Press.
“Small children have been getting into deep trouble at school lately, and their parents say it’s because educators are hypersensitive in the wake of the mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school in December,” AP reports.
According to AP here are some of the potential threats to school safety which has caused children to be suspended from school:
“Waiting in line for the for bus, a Pennsylvania kindergartner tells her pals she’s going to shoot them with a Hello Kitty toy that make soap bubbles. In Maryland, two 6-year-old boys pretend their fingers are guns during a playground game of cops and robbers. In Massachusetts, a 5-year-old boy attending an after-school program makes a gun out of Legos and points it at other students while “simulating the sound of gunfire.”
It not known the extent to which the Newton, Conn., shooting might influence educator is unclear. But parents contend administrators are projecting adult fears onto children who know little about the massacre, and pose no threat to anyone.
Created as a way to improve school security and discipline, zero tolerance policies can lead to overreaction by educators and provide them with little leeway to respond to problems in a more fair, just and sensible manner.
A study by the Children’s Defense Fund found that black children in Mississippi public schools are more than twice as likely to be disciplined or punished as white students.
Zero tolerance policies sometimes create what the Children Defense Fund calls the Cradle to Prison Pipeline.
Marian Wright Edelman, founder and director of the Children’s Defense Fund, says zero tolerance policies are forcing student out of school, leaving them uneducated and unable to find jobs.
“It is becoming the new American apartheid. It is resegregating. It is going to undermine the last 50 years of civil rights progress if we don’t look at it, see it, and break it up.” Edelman said.
Zero tolerance policies are not a new problem. In many cases these policies do not work because they discount professional judgment and do little to improve safety or discipline.
We must have increased evaluation and in some cases elimination of these polices are necessary.