More cuts coming for Phila. schools

Brace yourselves. Philadelphia School District officials are expected to give an update on the 2011-12 budget picture next week and...well, when was the last time we heard good news in that sector?

I asked officials to answer a number of budget questions in advance of the meeting, and they declined. They said Chief Financial Officer Michael Masch’s budget update at Thursday’s SRC meeting would have to suffice.

To recap: last we heard, the district cut $15 million from its budget by slashing individual schools’ discretionary funds and laying off staff including some school nurses. That’s on top of the thousands of layoffs and program cuts made going into the school year.

Roughly $14 million still needs to be cut on top of that. With classroom teachers protected from mid-year layoffs, there are not many places left to cut.

At one city public school, Cook-Wissahickon in Roxborough, a group of parents recently wrote to Gov. Corbett, state Sen. Vincent Hughes and state Rep.Pamela DeLissio to ask for more funds. The budget cuts made to date, the parents wrote, “have undermined our ability to maintain high standards of student support, engagement and safety.”

Some of Cook-Wissahickon’s losses since the fiscal crisis began:

-One kindergarten teacher, forcing large class sizes — 30 students each — in the two remaining kindergarten classes.
-Spanish teacher.  The school no longer offers a world language.
-Assistant Principal.
-School police officer.
-Bus monitor.
-Four of five noontime aides.
-Full-time music teacher.  The school now has a music teacher only two days a week.
-Prep period coverage, meaning the counselor has to fill in to cover classes, taking her away from her counseling duties.
-School supply budget.  The school currently has a budget of zero for the rest of the year; the Home and School Association is “begging parents for donations of paper and other school supplies.”
-Gifted program. The program is now funded at 35 hours for the whole school year.  “It exists in name only,” the parents wrote.

And that’s the story of a good school with an active parent group.

Every school has felt the pinch in ways big and small, and frankly, folks are worrying how on earth they’ll lose any more and still remain viable.

“If I have to cut more, I don’t know where I’d cut,” one principal said.  “There’s nothing left to cut.”