Dozens plead for Council to find more money for public schools

Dozens of distraught public school parents, teachers, advocates and students pleaded with City Council Tuesday to come up with $60 million in additional local revenue requested by the Philadelphia School District, while lamenting that even with the money, the proposed school budget will be a disaster for the city’s children.

One speaker after another criticized Gov. Corbett and the legislature for reducing state aid to education, and allowing the diversion of public school dollars to charter schools.

“Looking back it seems that in the last ten years our schools have been like a medieval village that has been encircled by an outside army, put under siege and steadily starved of resources and support personnel until we have been weakened for a final assault,” said Ken Derstine, who retired in 2011 after  37 years as a public school teacher, most recently at Meredith Elementary in Queen Village.

Derstine cited a provision of the Pennsylvania Constitution, stating: “The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.”

He said the legislature hadn’t obeyed those provisions at any time during his teaching careers. “My evaluation for these politicians is an ‘F’,” Derstine said.

Guillermo Santos, a 10-year-old fourth grader at Moffett Elementary School, address Council surrounded by a dozen of his classmates and their parents, brandishing a sheet – “two sides” --of proposed cuts at his school.

“The entire paper is filled with horror stories about what’s going on,” Santos said. “Autistic support, gone. Bilingual, gone. Secretary, gone. No more books. Kindergarten….Take this money out of anything else. Wars.  Prison.”

Santos’s mother, civic activist Cheri Honkala, said the proposed budget promises that “our children will be fast-tracked into prisons, drugs, unemployment…. Everything should stop in this city until you find this money.”

More than 70 people signed up to speak to Council, limited to three minutes each, though Council President Darrell Clarke was flexible in allowing most to complete their presentations, often distraught at cutbacks already implemented at their children’s schools, with more serious reductions proposed.

“It’s an emergency situation in the city, said Robert Petrone, an assistant district attorney with three children at Meredith who is required by his job to live in the city and said he can’t afford, on hhis city salary, to send his children to private schools.

He described the proposed school budget as “a de facto closing of all Philadelphia public schools.”

“Imagine City Hall,” he suggested, “with just the mayor and 17 members of City Council, no aides, no secretaries. How well would you be able to serve the public under these conditions?”

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