If School Reform Commission officials were caught a little flat-footed during a recent community meeting at Enon Baptist Church in which more than 2,500 people attended, then they should be prepared for a Tuesday May 22 meeting at 6:30 at Bright Hope Baptist Church, 12th St. and Cecil B. Moore Avenue.
SRC officials can expect the same sort of probing questions they received from attendees during the Enon meeting; only this time several other organizations are taking part, including Occupy Philly, ACTION United and the Service Employees International Union, which represents the majority of school district employees not covered by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.
The Bright Hope meeting represents the next in a series of community-orchestrated meetings, in which neighborhood leaders gather with other concerned stakeholders to discuss the School District of Philadelphia’s plan. Although not an officially sanctioned meeting of the SRC, district officials are often invited — and often do attend.
The meeting is bound to revolve around District Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen’s drastic reorganization blueprint, which calls for the closure of 64 schools, the privatization of crucial scholastic and academic services and a complete restructuring of the programs and offices at district headquarters downtown, among other measures meant to bring the district to a state of solvency.
“We are facing an education emergency in Philadelphia. Outside consultants are proposing to destroy the Philadelphia Public School System and cut thousands of living-wage jobs,” said activist Rita Addessa in an email to supporters, which cited other blueprint moves such as turning many of the remaining public schools into private charters. “The proposal does not talk about things that are known to work in improving education: lowering class sizes, [having] a highly qualified, experienced teacher in every classroom, and clean and safe schools.”
Also up for discussion will be District Chief Academic Officer Penny Nixon’s own plan for academic restructuring, which will alter not only the way principals run and manage their schools, but the way teachers deliver instruction as well.
“Officials have laid out their plan, and folks are unhappy, but we really haven’t heard a lot about an alternate vision,” said Roland Ferguson, of the Southwest Chapter of ACTION United. “That’s what we are going to do on Tuesday. People not only want to hear about the proposed changes, they want to make sure the needs of their children and their neighborhoods are being considered in the process. We’re going to lay out an alternative to the plan that includes the priorities of the community, parents and students.”
Bright Hope Baptist Church pastor D. Kevin R. Johnson will lead the meeting, during which members of the community will present photos, drawings and essays from area public school students depicting what they believe a good school should look like and include.
School funding is bound to be a hotly-contested issue, especially given Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s recent remarks, where he essentially blamed school districts throughout the commonwealth for fiscal mismanagement; Corbett also claimed that many school districts are sitting on reserves that they could tap into in order to save crucial programs.
School district officials have denied the district has any surplus or reserves, and confirmed that it is still experiencing a budgetary shortfall for the current year — and is still predicting a major gap for the next academic year.
“We reject the notion that there is no money for schools when they are building new prisons,” Ferguson said. “We need our officials to be listening to the community and looking for creative solutions, rather than trying to solve the funding crisis on the backs of students, or by outsourcing jobs.
“The people that work in the schools are parents and neighbors too.”