Layoffs? Bigger classes? SRC gets an earful

The School Reform Commission on Wednesday night will get an earful from parents and community members horrified at the Philadelphia School District's proposed budget.

The numbers are daunting: the district needs $216 million in new money to get to this year's admittedly inadequate level of services. (That would mean still no full-time counselors or nurses in every school, or enough basic supplies.) If the district wants to begin to fulfill Superintendent William R. Hite Jr.'s Action Plan v.2.0, the spend is $440 million.

The possible sources of that money - city and state lawmakers, and the district's teachers' union - all largely say they have done their job in funding the schools.

And without any new cash, the district must lay off 1,000 employees, mostly classroom teachers. Class sizes would grow to 37 students in the primary grades, 40 in the middle grades, and 41 in high school.

It's been called the "empty shell" budget.

Stay tuned - I'll be livetweeting the meeting.

Earlier in the day, Mayor Nutter toured George Washington High, a large comprehensive high school in the Northeast, as part of a listening tour. My colleague Claudia Vargas provides this report:

Mayor Nutter spent three hours speaking with students, teachers and school principal Gene T. Jones.

 Though most of the complaints —— not enough counselors or adults in general in the building, teachers paying out of their own pockets for supplies —— were familiar tales, Nutter said hearing the actual impact on students was crucial.

 The anecdotes will “Help carry the message that more funding is in fact needed. I have more and more examples of why and what it can be used for,” Nutter said.“This is not a theory, this is real,” Nutter said after the tour. “What we’ve lost here is the personal aspect of it.”

Students spoke of the challenge in having one counselor for the entire school to handle not just the seniors applying to colleges and for scholarships but the rest of the student body.

“We need more support, especially the foreign students” said Valeryia Pratasava, who moved to Philadelphia from Belarus last year. “Not just with scholarships but adapting to school and an American lifestyle.”

George Washington High has a diverse population of students who speak 52 different languages. Yet, because of cuts, Spanish is the only foreign language offered as a class. French and Russian were cut recently.

Other students complained about not having enough after-school programs focused on post-high school careers such as ROTC for those interested in joining the military. Others told stories of tests having to be postponed because the teacher did not have enough paper to print the tests.

Teachers Colette Ditoro-Werner and Mike McKinney met with Nutter in the school’s library, which has computers and books but no librarian. The veteran teachers complained about not having the supplies needed to teach biology courses or enough adults in the building to keep order in the school.

And Jones, who is in his first year in the district after a 30-year career in Virginia, spoke of having to sell candy to be able to gather enough money to replace the light bulbs on classroom smart boards.

Not including salaries, Jones said he has a budget of $35,000 to run the school of 1,600 students. To be able to just pay for the basics at the school, just as having enough paper in every classroom, he estimates he needs $100,000.

After the “listening tour” Nutter said he wasn’t so much surprised. Instead, he found the tour reaffirming that the students in the district know what they have and don’t have and that they deserve better.

“They are in fact resilient but you can’t survive and thrive on a daily diet of just resilience,” Nutter said. - Claudia Vargas

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