Philly school moms lament budget cuts

Upset at how budget cuts have affected their school, about 20 parents from A.S. Jenks Elementary marched into Philadephia School District headquarters Friday morning.

They love their small, high-performing K-4 South Philadelphia school.  But they worry about what they’ve lost this year — teachers, classroom aides, and especially their school police officer.

A.S. Jenks student Nicholas Moore, 9, wrote this letter to the School Reform Commission. Jenks and 52 other schools lost their school police officers because of budget cuts.

Jenks was one of 53 schools district-wide that’s now without an officer because of a financial crisis that required $629 million in cutbacks.  In June, more than 2,700 employees were laid off; school budgets were also hit hard.

Officer Harry Mackey lives close to the school at 13th and Porter.  His grandchildren attend Jenks.  He knew students and their families.  He monitored the school’s entrance, kept watch over the yard.

“He is the reason why we are a safe school!!!!” fourth grader Nicholas Moore, 9, wrote in a letter the moms hand-delivered Friday.  “We miss him because he is part of the A.S. Jenks family he is kind and when ever we need help he is there to help us! Please give him back!”

Mackey was not laid off.  He now works at another elementary school.

With Mackey gone from Jenks, people have just walked into the building, said Jennifer Miller, an officer in Jenks’ active Home and School Association. Drop-offs and dismissals were chaotic during the first week of school, in a way they had never been before. Miller worries what could come next.

“I don’t want to move,” Moore said.  “I love this city. I can’t afford private school. I can’t get my kids into a charter school. I should be able to send my kids to public school and have them be safe.”

The group met with Brendan Lee, the district's executive director of school safety, who promised he would visit Jenks on Monday.  

“I told them, ‘We’ll work with you to go to the principal and work on some school management issues,’” Lee said.

All 53 schools now have regular visits by school police patrol officers and city police, Lee said. He also said he’d be working closely with the principals of the schools to address specific issues.

Jenks Principal Siouda Chestnut said she’s taken steps to calm things — offering teachers extra pay to help with lunches, admissions and dismissals, and asking the parents to volunteer.  On Friday, she, the school counselor, the counselor intern and teachers all pitched in, she said.

“That’s how we’re handling it — asking for more help from the teachers and the community,” said Chestnut.

Emmanuel Caulk, the assistant superintendent who oversees Jenks, agreed.

"In times of fiscal austerity," Caulk said, "you have to have a community come together."

Jenks mom Shannon Aryadarei said the group will keep advocating for their school.

“It’s just not right,” Aryadarei said.  “We’re going to keep on pushing until we get an answer.”