Author, founder of Art Sanctuary hailed as ‘asset’
Philadelphia native Lorene Cary, author and founder of the Art Sanctuary, has been appointed to the School Reform Commission.
Her appointment rounds out a commission left with three vacancies following the recent resignations of Chairman Robert L. Archie Jr., and member Johnny Irizarry. A third vacancy remains as Pedro Ramos, appointed by Gov. Tom Corbett earlier this year, awaits approval by the state Senate.
Mayor Michael Nutter announced Cary’s appointment late Monday afternoon in a statement released by his press secretary.
“Lorene Cary is a nationally recognized writer, she has a tremendous education background, but for me what is truly outstanding is that she has an incredible passion for the well-being of children; she cares very personally about parents and she’s very much focused on supporting teachers,” Nutter said. “She will be a tremendous asset to the School Reform Commission and the children of Philadelphia.”
Cary could not be reached for comment, but was quoted in the mayor’s announcement.
“My parents were both Philadelphia public school teachers; I attended elementary school here; our children have spent about half their school life in District schools; and as a writer and arts organization director, I’ve worked with schools and with kids, parents and grandparents who know that a good education is their only real hope for success,” she said. “I am grateful to be called to serve them on this committed and talented team.”
The appointment was praised by the state Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis.
“I believe her experience will be beneficial to the school district and the commission,” he said. “I look forward to working with her and her colleagues in the coming months as we address many of the critical issues facing the district.”
Under rules established in 2001, when the state took over city schools, the mayor appoints two members of the five-member commission and the governor appoints three.
That left just two members — Denise McGregor Armbrister and Joseph A. Dworetzky — after Archie’s and Irizarry’s resignations in early September. Both men stepped down in the wake of a far-reaching scandal surrounding the departure of Superintendent Arlene Ackerman and efforts to turn Martin Luther King High School into a charter school.
Nutter filled one slot on Sept. 20, with the appointment of Wendell E. Pritchett, chancellor of Rutgers University-Camden.
Cary is a well-known novelist and teaches at the University of Pennsylvania.
Her novel, “The Price of a Child,” was the inaugural One Book One Philadelphia selection in 2003. A senior lecturer in creative writing in the English Department of the University of Pennsylvania, Cary founded Art Sanctuary in 1998 as a means of using African-American art to enrich the city and region, to bring the arts to schools and to build and strengthen a network among artists. She was awarded the Philadelphia Award in 2002.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Cary has undergraduate and graduate degrees from Penn. She also won a Thouron Fellowship and earned an M.A. in Victorian literature from Sussex University in the United Kingdom. She graduated from St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H. and later taught at the school.
Cary lives in East Falls with her husband, the Rev. Robert C. Smith, rector of the Memorial Church of the Good Shepherd. The couple has two daughters.
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan wasted little time in blasting the School Reform Commission’s decision to expand its 2012–2013 school year charter school offerings in the face of an epic budgetary gap, approaching $300 million for the coming school year.
Writing in his blog, Jordan ridiculed Office of Charter, Partnership and New Schools Deputy Chief Thomas Darden’s recent decision, saying Darden and the SRC are going back to the sort of decision-making that led to the current malaise.
“[Last] Friday, the district’s charter school office chief conceded that the charter expansions approved so far this year could cost $139 million over five years — $100 million more than he originally stated. So, on top of a looming $282 million deficit, the school district is spending another $38 million, and making $100 million math mistakes? Clearly, the charter school expansion agenda has trumped fiscal soundness,” read Jordan’s statement, in part. “The current deficit is a major obstacle to reforming a school system that was already struggling to serve our children. With a new projected deficit of over $300 million, it’s time to abandon this high-cost, low-return reform model our kids have been subjected to. Kudos to School Reform Commissioners Joseph Dworetzky and Lorene Cary for voting against adding another $139 million to the school deficit, and advocating for a research-backed, school-based approach to education reform.
“We can save money and get better results by working with and supporting our own educators and administrators. They, after all, are trained to do what we’re trying to accomplish: devise strategies to give our children the education they need,” Jordan’s statement continued. “The District cannot afford the latest round of charter expansions, but if the SRC insists on spending millions of dollars, our students and teachers could certainly benefit more from additional classroom materials and technology; safer school buildings; afterschool programs and social services.”
The district currently has 80 charter schools on its roster.
School Reform Commission Spokesman Fernando Gallard said that Darden had misunderstood the question, and took umbrage at the assumption the district doesn’t know what it is doing with its funds.
“Well, I think it needs to be put in context. The $38 million was for a specific number of schools, not for all of the schools under consideration,” Gallard said. “What happened was Darden was asked about the costs of seats. When he answered the question, he was looking at those schools and not [the total of charter] schools.
“That $38 million, Darden was talking about the cost of adding four charter schools and not all of the charters under consideration,” Gallard continued. “So from the beginning of this process, when Darden was doing his presentation of what costs might look like before expansions, he put a number of $100 million total.
“So the idea that the district did not know what the possible costs of the expansion would be is not correct.”
Still, Gallard confirmed that the district will spend $139 million for the expansion of its charter school program, and it is that number and the methodology involved which has irked both Jordan and legislators.
Lawmakers statewide have sought to reform charter school oversight and funding. House Bill 2352 is but one of several pieces of legislation that will add layers of checks and balances to the charter school system, as would HB 2364, otherwise known as the Charter and Cyber Charter Reform law.
State Rep. James Roebuck has been a proponent of both pieces of legislation and of charter school reform on the whole, and believes the SRC would do well to rethink its position on funding charter school expansion.
“I’ve had no direct communication on that issue [with the SRC], but it seems to me, given the economic pressures on the district, they would be wise to assess where they are going,” Roebuck said, “and assess where [the district] needs to be before expanding charters or doing anything else.”
Roebuck had intimated that charter school reform will be a main topic once the General Assembly reconvenes in September.
HB 2364, introduced by Rep. Mike Fleck and endorsed by Roebuck, would severely reduce the statewide funding of charter and cyber charter schools.
“At a time when public schools are still coping with last year’s state education funding cuts and local property taxpayers want to avoid another round of trickle-down tax hikes, it’s only fair to taxpayers for all schools to play by the same rules,” Roebuck said when he announced his support of the measure. “These reforms [included in HB 2364] … provide this relief immediately to school districts and their taxpayers. These reforms would provide at least $45.8 million in savings for the coming school year, and probably much more than that.”
Art Sanctuary formally held a “Passing the Baton: Launching Beyond Legacy” transition event on Friday Nov. 30 honoring the legacy of founder Lorene Cary, and looking toward the organization’s future under the leadership of new Executive Director Valerie V. Gay. The free-will offering fundraiser and community celebration brought together over 300 at The Pavilion at the Community College of Philadelphia.
Art Sanctuary is in its 14th year serving as one of the nation’s leading African-American arts and letters organizations devoted to presenting outstanding regional and national talent in the literary, visual and performing arts.
“It is exciting, and I am more excited for what our audience will receive,” said Gay. “We are looking to really deepen and widen the impact that Art Sanctuary already has. Every year, Art Sanctuary touches about 15,000 lives in this city, and we intend to do more of that. The work that we do is powerful; is life-impacting; is life-altering — which sounds dramatic in terms of art — but it really is. And the work that we do, we’re going to take it and scale it to larger levels for more people to be impacted, and to be touched.”
The theme of “Passing the Baton” was “honoring the past and looking to the future,” and Gay announced her first initiative will be the “Read With Me: The MLK Project.”
“We will take a piece of literature — Martin Luther King’s ‘Letter From A Birmingham Jail’ — arguably one of the most important documents from the Civil Rights era, but it’s one of the least read. So, we’re going to say to people, ‘Read it,’ but not just read it, find three young people and read it with them and discuss it. And then we want them to do something, to write their own letter to power and have some call of action: write a song, a poem or a blog or make a piece of art, and then tell us about it by linking to our website and being a part of the larger community.”
The evening featured performances by some of Art Sanctuary’s artistic family who have shared their talents with the organization over the years. The baton was represented in the form of two five-foot tall wood cane-like African percussive instruments that both Cary and Gay have utilized for the last couple of months during meetings.
Cary said, “I’ve cut the cord. One should step aside and get out of the way. So I don’t have a role. My role is to be the founder. You should know when to lead and you should know when to serve, so I’m at her service if she wants me, but I am not necessary.”
For more information about “Read With Me: The MLK Project,” visit artsanctuary.org/read-with-me/.
As part of Art Sanctuary’s 28th Annual Celebration of Black Writing, the organization hosted the Lifetime Achievement Award ceremony at The Historic Church of the Advocate.
With the yearlong theme of “Growing from Good to Great,” the organization honored JET and Ebony magazines, with JET’s Editor-in-Chief Mitzi Miller accepting on behalf of both, and Marita Golden of the Hurston/Wright Foundation — all institutions that have taken writers from around the globe from good to great.
“Ebony and JET are just part of our cultural conversation,” Miller said. “They are a part of our lives. Since their inception, their sole purpose has been making sure that our opinions and our voices are heard; making sure that our news is shared and that what we have to say matters.”
For almost three decades, the “Celebration of Black Writing” has sought to deepen Philadelphia's literary life and polish its tourist shine with a rich infusion of African-American writers and artists in all genres.
A one-of- a-kind literary feast, the “Celebration” provides writers and artists an opportunity to discuss their work with up to 1,500–2,000 students, and another 2,000–3,000 people participate in panels, workshops, teachers' symposium, Family Pavilion, main stage, and other events.
The Celebration features up to 75 professional and aspiring writers, editors, publishers, scholars, spoken-word artists, performance artists, playwrights, and filmmakers.
Some of the country’s most innovative culture leaders and thinkers have been lauded over the years including renowned poet, writer, commentator, activist and educator Nikki Giovanni, poet Sonia Sanchez and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Charles Fuller. Supermodel Beverly Johnson, who is also star of the new reality show, ‘Beverly’s Full House’ on OWN, served as event emcee on Friday evening.
“Writers write—they don’t talk about writing,” said author Bernice McFadden as she introduced Golden. “But then I read 'Migrations of the Heart ' and something in me began to shift. I felt a sense of hope return. Here was a woman, a Black woman, writing her own story, doing exactly what she wanted to do and how she wanted to do it. She had not allowed anyone, or anything, to stand in the way...why couldn't I do the same? With each book I read, I became inspired as a woman and as an inspiring writer.”
Golden said writing is a calling and a mission: “Each life contains the seeds of other lives—and 22 years of working in the Hurston/Wright Foundation to create this organization has taught me that this work that the Arts Sanctuary does, that Lorene Cary has done, that I've done, is not just cultural work; it's not just political work; it is deeply, deeply spiritual work because it has such a profound impact on the minds, the hearts and the souls of people.”
The city remembered the late veteran journalist Fatimah Ali at her “Celebration of Life” memorial service on Monday, Jan. 30.
It was standing room only at the Summit Presbyterian Church, Greene Street and Westview Avenue in the West Mount Airy section of the city.
Family, childhood and college friends, journalism colleagues, sister friends and listeners to “The Real Deal with Fatimah Ali” which aired daily on 900AM WURD were on hand. They filled the church where Ali was baptized, made confirmation and grew up attending Sunday School before converting to Islam.
Among those who gave remarks were Mayor Michael Nutter, Art Sanctuary director Lorene Cary of Mount Airy, poet Sonia Sanchez of West Germantown, WURD general manager Sara Lomax-Reese of Mount Airy, Barbara Grant, the former Philadelphia New Observer editor Helen Blue of West Oak Lane, and actor Tom Page from Freedom Theatre.
Childhood friends and family members also gave their tributes during the community memorial.
For West Mount Airy native Pamela Chestnut it was an emotional experience. Though she readily admitted she never met Ali, she knows many who knew her personally and she herself has been an avid listener of her morning radio show for the past year. Chestnut used to read Ali’s columns in the Philadelphia Daily News and the former Philadelphia New Observer.
“She was such an inspirational sister,” Chestnut said. “She advocated for education, those who were incarcerated and the homeless. She was just so honest and direct. I knew that I had to come here to pay tribute to someone who affected our community so much,
“I am also concerned about her children,” she added. “I know that she had a strong family, but like most of us there are struggles. Though I can’t donate much at this time, when I get some money soon I plan to give more. I understand, like she did, that it takes a village to rear our children, and we have to ensure that hers will be okay.”
Zahfar Rashied of Germantown was busily taking photographs and video footage of what he referred to as “an historical moment.”
He was hired by Ali at WDAS-FM in 1990 when she was the news director, he said. Rashied remembered that she always patiently worked with him as he was learning the ropes of the broadcast industry.
“She was always a tremendously giving and supportive person,” he said. “When I heard the news I was saddened. I know that she’s not here — but the way she lived her life — she is continuing her journey now. God sends us persons like her to teach us how to walk on this earth.”
Among the memories that radio salesperson and photographer Saundra Ali — not related to Fatimah — had about the late journalist was their last conversation and email.
The two Alis were brainstorming about a cookbook in which Fatimah Ali, a gourmet cook, would pen the recipes and Saundra Ali would provide the photos. They also toyed with the idea of starting a national African-American newspaper.
“We said the book was going to make us rich,” said Saundra Ali, who coordinated Fatimah Ali’s Muslim funeral, held in West Philadelphia on Friday. “We were going to meet about the newspaper idea, but she sent me an email the night before she died saying that she didn’t feel well and just wanted to sleep. I am glad the last time I saw her that we hugged and she said to me, ‘You are my sister.’ That’s how I’ll always remember her.”
Among the tributes that were read by broadcaster and SCOOP USA columnist Thera Martin Millings was a testimonial from Fran Aulston, founder and director of the West Philadelphia Cultural Alliance and the Paul Robeson House. Aulston and Cary noted Fatimah Ali had a commitment to the arts.
“She was just an aware sister,” said Raja Thomas of Germantown. “I learned about life from her. I started reading the One Step Away newspaper for and by the homeless because of her show. She understood what it is to be human. That’s why she’s up there with the saints now.”
The Art Sanctuary’s 28th Annual Celebration of Black Writing is the nation’s only literary festival of its kind, offering 13 days of literary discussions and workshops, music showcases and film screenings. Writers and artists will discuss their work with up to 2,000 students, and another 3,000 people will participate in panels, workshops and other events. The celebration features 75 professional and aspiring writers, editors, publishers, scholars, spoken-word artists, performance artists, playwrights and filmmakers. This year, selected panels and workshops will be streamed live for the first time online, and will also be archived so that new and enthusiastic readers and writers can access them anytime.
The Celebration of Black Writing brings acclaimed authors, scholars and performance artists from across the U.S. to meet, teach and interact with festival attendees through lectures, readings, workshops, panel discussions, family activities and performances. It connects established authors, emerging talent, novice writers and performance artists, with avid readers and local audiences spanning race, gender and background. The festival offers family-friendly events as well. Independence Blue Cross (IBC) and the AmeriHealth Mercy Family of Companies are the presenting sponsors for the program which runs from May 21 to June 2.
“We take great pride in our support of the Celebration of Black Writing festival, and in partnering with Art Sanctuary,” said Daniel Hilferty, president and CEO of IBC. “This exceptional and innovative organization educates and nurtures so many aspiring writers and other artists, and it improves the lives of thousands through promoting the arts.”
One of the major highlights of the festival is the Lifetime Achievement Award ceremony to be held Friday, June 1. With Art Sanctuary’s year-long theme of “Growing from Good to Great,” the organization will honor JET and Ebony magazines, with JET’s editor-in-chief Mitzi Miller accepting on behalf of both, and Marita Golden of the Hurston/Wright Foundation.
“We’ve got to hold (Black writers) in the light,” noted Lorene Carey, executive director, Art Sanctuary. “There is great value in holding the critical mass of African-American creative talent in the light — to use that Quaker phrase ‘to hold it in the light’ — there is great value in that. It’s valued for our own community. These are our griots. These people are telling a narrative about the Black experience — and the white experience, by the way — and they are narratives that are nourishing, necessary and sometimes very challenging for the growth of the African-American community. They are telling narratives that are necessary and nourishing to our larger community. ... They are some of the strongest explorers of questions that America needs to learn and to pose and challenge it and argue about. These people are doing it, and we have them here year after year. To keep it going year after year means that we relieve the pressure that’s on African-American artists, or the Black creative, to represent our amazing diversity in one shot.”
The Art Sanctuary’s 28th Annual Celebration of Black Writing takes place at several locations around the city, including Art Sanctuary, the Historic Church of the Advocate, the Kimmel Center and Temple University. The all-day festival taking place at Temple University on June 2 is free. Some events taking place during the 13-day festival, May 21 to June 2, are offered at a low ticket price. For more information and to get a full listing of the festival’s line-up, visit www.artsanctuary.org or call (215) 232-4485.
The Art Sanctuary, 628 S. 16th St., held a fundraising event on Wednesday honoring the photography of Emmy Award-winning journalist Arthur Fennell. Fennell captured scenes of a culture during a 10-day stay in the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. The fruit of his labor, “The People of Massai Mara,” is currently on display at the Art Sanctuary.
“You couldn’t help but be inspired — there was beauty everywhere I looked,” Fennell said. “For me, as a photographer, you see pictures, and everywhere I turned in every direction there was a picture I wanted to take and a moment I wanted to capture — I couldn’t get them all.”
The band Napoleon Dolomite and the Signifyin’ Monks played as guests mingled, admired Fennell’s work and purchased raffle tickets for the chance to take home one of his photographs.
Fennell spoke at the event, sharing his experiences in the Massai Mara and described what it was like capturing moments on camera.
“As most of you know, I’ve made my career in front of the camera, not behind it, but I’ve always been fascinated by pictures,” he said.
Fennell, executive producer and anchor of “Art Fennell Reports” on the Comcast network, is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years of experience in the media. He has tapped into his photography skills and he expressed his excitement at having his work exhibited and his joy in contributing to support the effort of the Art Sanctuary.
As the night continued, he mingled with guests, discussing his artwork and experiences in Kenya.
The staff honored four volunteers who have devoted time toward the efforts of the Art Sanctuary. Of those volunteers, Leontine Frierson, said she appreciated the recognition and enjoys volunteering with the Art Sanctuary.
“It was a surprise, we didn’t know we were going to be honored,” Frierson said.
The volunteers were rewarded with flowers and were recognized for raising $3,000 collectively for their volunteer hours.
Melissa Rowe, a member of the Art Sanctuary, was pleased with the turnout and believes it will help raise awareness of the organization. Rowe was impressed by Fennell’s work and felt a special connection to one of his photos that he named “Air.”
“It was like he was levitating,” Rowe said, referring to the photo. “I was really captivated, the colors, the motion — everything.”
Lorene Cary, founder and executive director of the Art Sanctuary, was pleased with the night and the success of the organization’s first exhibit-like event.
“We haven’t done this kind of fundraising before,” she explained. “This is our first one, and I am amazed.”
The staff at the Art Sanctuary connected with Fennell through a mutual friend, L. Harrison Jay, who serves as Temple University’s liaison with community nonprofit organizations. The staff was thrilled by Fennell’s participation and looks forward to possibly incorporating future exhibit events along with its fundraising events and community engagement initiatives.
Guests purchased some of Fennell’s photographs. The Art Sanctuary will display his artwork for a week so others can it. A group from the Independence Charter School has already scheduled a visit this week.
Fennell believes his photography is another way to tell a story.
“An image may be fleeting and only available for an instant, but a picture can capture it forever,” he said.
If School Reform Commission Chairman Pedro Ramos has his way, students enrolled in the Philadelphia School District and their parents should know who the new superintendent is before schools open in September.
That’s provided the newly assembled Superintendent Search Team can finish its work in the next eight months.
“There is no greater responsibility for the SRC than selecting the right superintendent,” Ramos said through a statement released by the SRC. “We believe we can complete the search before September, and we will continue until we have the right leader for our district and our system of schools. We will not settle.”
Lorene Cary, Joseph Dworetzky, Feather Houstoun, and Wendell Pritchett will join Ramos as members of the search team, with Pritchett serving as search team leader. Its executive advisors are Lori Shorr and Edward Williams; Fred Ginyard, Kenneth Kring and Robert Wonderling, the president and CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, will round out the team. And that team certainly has its work cut out for it, given the high-profile dismissal last August of controversial former superintendent Arlene Ackerman.
After her dismissal, Ackerman humiliated and infuriated school and city officials by filing for unemployment – after she was paid $905,000 in her severance package. The SRC, in its settlement with Ackerman, stated it would not resist her attempt to claim unemployment.
All parties involved in the search for a new school district leader promise a diligent, well-executed search that will focus on certain core criteria.
“Effective community dialogue and input will be critical in the selection of our next superintendent,” said Pritchett. “It is important that the search team is transparent and inclusive in its efforts to select the best candidate to sustain and accelerate the positive academic gains of our children we have experienced.
“The search team must, at the same time, be respectful of the privacy interests of persons who are not prepared to be a candidate, or are not under consideration as finalists for the position.”
Count Mayor Michael Nutter as one of those impressed with the SRC’s move to create the search team.
“I commend the SRC on striking a balance between the need for true public engagement and the importance of moving quickly…this community engagement process will help the SRC to learn from parents, students, and stakeholders about what is needed at the school level as they take on the vitally important task,” Nutter said. “The community engagement process will provide invaluable input to be used throughout the selection process and beyond.”
Breaking bread together is often a common way people connect with one another on an intimate level.
The staff at the Art Sanctuary in South Philadelphia felt it would be a perfect way to bring Grammy nominated artist Hannibal Lokumbe together with the performers of his work “Can You Hear God Crying?” last Sunday.
Lorene Cary, founder and executive director of the Art Sanctuary, worked with her staff to prepare the tasty supper for the trumpeter and composer.
The world premiere for Lokumbe’s “Can You Hear God Crying” has been postponed until June 2012, but on Tuesday, the performance was presented before an audience of 1.200 Philadelphia middle and high school students at the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall.
However, the intention of the Art Sanctuary supper was to bring the groups together to create an intimate space for warm conversation before the show.
Lokumbe and his wife Sumai ate dinner and reminisced on old memories, good music and dug deep into Lokumbe’s work.
Among those present was Valerie V. Gay, a soprano performer in the production.
“I pinch myself because I can’t believe how blessed I am just to be a part of this,” she said.
Gay was grateful to have the opportunity to talk with Lokumbe about the piece and his interpretation.
“It is such an honor, I wanted to ask all the questions I possibly could because I want to make sure to do it right and do it justice,” she said.
Lokumbe explained to the table when his artists perform his work – it no longer belongs to him, it’s now considered “their” work.
He discussed African ancestry and the innate ability and gift to harmonize at levels that cannot be taught.
“It’s important to nurture that and for our children to take our history and culture and take it with them and share it with other people while still maintaining who they are,” Gay said.
Internationally acclaimed percussionist Mogauwane Mahloele, was pleased to reconnect with Lokumbe and have the opportunity to have casual conversation with him and the rest of the guests.
“This is a way to meet in a much friendlier way than the workplace,” he said. “You’re not pressured about anything; you can talk about things without any inhibitions—just talking with good food.”
Mahloele expressed Cary and the Art Sanctuary want to articulate the artistry of the Black culture. He was appreciative of their work and the opportunity to come together on Sunday.
Lokumbe enjoyed the dinner and conversation and felt he too learned a lot from the conversation.
“To have the opportunity to sit with people you love, respect and admire—that’s a gift beyond explanation,” he said.
School district faces $39 million gap requiring still more cuts
On Wednesday, with some new faces in place, School Reform Commission members, before a packed auditorium at School District headquarters on Broad Street that required an overflow room, contorted their faces and shifted uncomfortably in their seats as Chief Financial Officer Michael Masch told a disbelieving group that the District has to make $39 million more in reductions.
“We have some bad news, but we have some good news as well,” Masch began. “I will get to the unpleasant first. These are difficult times, and unfortunately, they are not ending any time soon.”
Masch announced approximately $17 million in new cuts, and then said this leaves approximately $22 million more to be axed in the latest round. Individual school budgets, already skeletal, could be slashed, he said, by another one percent, or an average of $40,000 per school.
The $17 million in proposed cuts is expected to come from the areas of professional development, English-language learner instructors, psychologists and music, sports, educational technology and bilingual counseling assistants.
“There they go again, doing what they do best, making cuts that directly affect the poorest people in the city,” said one woman, who would not identify herself as she exited the auditorium rather than wait for Masch to conclude his approximately 45-minute presentation.
After the $17 million in cuts is realized, the School District will still be desperately trying to eliminate the remaining $22 million shortfall. Acting superintendent Leroy Nunery and acting SRC chairman Wendell Pritchett have asked Masch for proposals recommending where the next round of cuts to reduce the shortfall will come from.
“These are difficult times for anyone in the system — students, parents, teachers, employees — they are hard for us all,” Pritchett said. “And unfortunately, they are not ending any time soon.”
Even with the $44 million in savings the district realized because of concessions from the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and the principals’ union, the District had been banking on savings from union concessions in the neighborhood of $75 million.
Even the good news that Masch promised was not nearly as good as advertised.
He reported that when the District closed its books on the last school year in June, it did so with an $18.2 million surplus, good news — until he explained how that surplus came about.
In the robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul fashion that has become typical in Philadelphia’s public schools, the District had to shift a state grant received for the 2012 fiscal year into the 2011 budget. While this is permitted, the move created a matching hole in the 2012 budget.
Masch pointed out that most future cuts will have to be discretionary moves because “law” and/or “collective bargaining agreements” prevent them from coming from other areas.
Wednesday’s meeting was the first attended by mayoral SRC appointee Lorene Cary. The SRC is still awaiting the state Senate confirmations of gubernatorial appointees Pedro Ramos and Feather Houstoun.
Things won’t be any easier for the School District at next week’s meeting, which will be televised for the first time, the District announced. That meeting (Wednesday) will include recommendations for school closings and consolidations.