T. Milton Street, the ex-con, former state Senator challenging Mayor Nutter in the May primary, was apparently not impressed on Wednesday with Nutter's promise to act on the scourge of violence in the city's public schools, as documented in the Inquirer's week-long series that culminated Sunday.
In an open letter to Nutter, Street said more could have and should have been done previously.
"I am pleased that the Administration has decided to review school district programs and policies but frankly this should have been done long ago and now requires more intense effort and focus on the issues at hand than I see occurring at the present time," Street wrote.
He also requested information about what the Mayor knew about school violence and proposed state budget cuts, and when he knew it. Among his suggested recommendations, Street says Nuttersshould "establish a cabinet-level position focused solely on issues related to education," although Nutter did just that when he came in, by appointing Lori Shorr his chief education officer.
The entire letter is below:
April 6, 2011
The Honorable Michael A. Nutter
Office of the Mayor
Cith Hall 2nd Floor
To the Honorable Michael A. Nutter,
The rise in school violence and the thought, as reported in the news, that the frequency has been under reported for sometime is extremely disturbing. This seems to have occurred while gun violence and homicides have been increasing as well. Both our children and our teachers are in a very difficult situation. That requires immediate attention.
I am pleased that the Administration has decided to review school district programs and policies but frankly this should have been done long ago and now requires more intense effort and focus on the issues at hand than I see occurring at the present time. We must also understand that the safety of our children is impacted by crime outside of the school as well as support from social service agencies, after school programs, and other anti-violence efforts as well. The Administration has been silent far to long on this issue and action is needed now.
Violence was a major problem in South Philadelphia as reported two years ago and your administration has been virtually silent until investigative reports have put a spotlight on this growing problem throughout the city. It is also a mistake for the city to think that the answer to the issue of school violence can be helped by allowing the School District to eliminate 1000 teachers and any support staff that have a direct responsibility for the sfatey of the children and the teachers. Also your budget before council reduces and elimates programs that have a direct impact on violence reduction and prevention. Your systemtic dismantling of after school programs and ant-violence efforts must be reversed.
While I agree that the buget cuts proposed by Governor Corbett futher enhance and exasperate the problems we should not forget the district was already running almost a half billion dollar deficit last year. It is difficult for me to believe that the School Reform Commission and your Administration did not have some idea of what was in store for our schools in that you have appointees on the SRC, lobbyists in Harrisburg, and a Budget Director for the school district that had also worked for the State as well. How is it possible that there was no plan in place to fill the loss of revenue that was clearly known to only be available for one year through economic stimulous and other grants? How is it possible that with your appointees on the SRC your administration has not at this point shown any leadership or vision in resolving these issues? A careful review of testimony presented by your appointees, school district officials from last year contradicts that of statements these same individuals are making this year. In testimony in 2010 Councilman Green among others were told by the Budget Director that plans were in place if funding for the school district was reduced and how the district would make reductions to operations. What were these proposed cuts then and what was shared with you? This is what we need to know moving forward. It is easy to look at Governor Corbett as a scape goat (and we need him to help us out of this) but it would seem that clearly the SRC and this administration have allowed problems in both economics and physical safety to spiral out of control.
The absence of information on the state of our schools in your budget message is alarming. It demonstrates the lack of importance you have placed on this issue or that you hoped to defer action. Deferral is not an option. Deferral of the municipal union contracts still hangs as a cloud over your administration and is now being followed by the thunder and lightening of school district deficits and reduced spending that could cripple this city and our children for years to come.
I am requesting the following information through the Right to Know Law or Open records Act:
* When did the administration first become aware of the increased incidents of violence in our schools and what actions have been to ensure our children's saftey?
* When did the Administration first become aware of the school district's intention to lay off teachers?
* Was information discussed internally between the SRC and the administration on future cuts and reductions before the contract was signed with the PFT?
* Did the Administration have any communication - either directly or through the Governor's appointees to the SRC - with the Governor before the budget was announced?
* What discussions has the administration had with the SRC on how last years deficit would be resolved?
I also call on both the Office of the Mayor and the School Reform Commission to consider the following suggestions:
* More resources should be demanded from both the city and the state to ensure proper security in every school and for every classroom.
* Assign psychologists to each school who would be available at the request of parents and school officials when behavior problems are suspected and identified.
* School officials should be mandated to complete incident reports within 2 hours when a teacher is threatened or assaulted. Reports would be sent to the Police Department, SRC, and the parents or guardians of the child. Referrals would then be made to the appropriate agency.
* The city must establish a cabinet Level Position focused solely on issues related to education and ensure that all aspects of service are coordinated in a way to best assist the School District, the SRC, Law Enforcement, and Social Services
* The School District staff involved with saftey should have regularly scheduled briefings with the city's social services agencies and have school district police be apart of a regular roll call with local district police as well. This will enable them to know what is going on outside of the school as well as what is going on in it.
* Organize a virtual summit to discuss the issues facing our schools that should include school administrators from other major cities both domestic and international. This summit should also include experts in the field such as Michelle Rhee former Superintendent of the Washington, D.C. Public School System as well. Representatives of Student Governments and their parents from the same cities should be invited to participate as well. Additionally, law enforcement agencies should be included as appropriate.
* If the Administration intends to allow the state to take away its second casino license it should negotiate with the State for fair compensation for public education that would be perpetual based on a percetage of projected loss revenues that would result. If the Administration intends to fight to keep the license the revenue from the 2nd casino could be dedicated to fill the gap in the School Districts budget.
Finally, I would like to say that our children need to know that they matter and do count. There are a thousand teachers, twenty eight school nurses, and other staff that should not be viewed as mere numbers on spread sheet but are also people who count as well. If a contract was signed in good faith and a commitment was made to our teachers it should be kept otherwise it should have never been signed. Our Teachers and our students count and we must do what we must to show them that not just in words.
Thank you for your consideration in these matters and time is of vital importance in your response.
T. Milton Street, Sr
Former State Senator
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