Hundreds of letters decry problems at underfunded city schools
A homeless Philadelphia third grader does not have access to a full-time counselor, even though federal law requires it.
A first grader's attends school in an annex that had an assistant principal last year but now has no administrator.
And a high school senior cannot get access to transcripts to apply to college because her school has only a part-time guidance counselor.
These were among 260 separate complaints sent to the state by parents of city schoolchildren that education advocates described at a City Hall news conference Thursday. The documents depict deficiencies in the city's cash-strapped schools that they say violate state or federal laws.
"What's happening to our students is flat-out wrong," said Councilman Bill Green, who hosted the news conference with Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez.
"We cannot stand by idly while children every single day are not being served," Quinones-Sanchez added.
State law requires the education department to investigate every complaint it receives. Parents United for Public Education and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia - the groups leading the compaign - said the batch sent to Education Secretary Caroline Dumaresq Wednesday was just the first wave.
Helen Gym, co-founder of Parents United, said 130 more would be shipped by week's end. And with the help of the Media Mobilizing Project in Center City, Gym said a website was created to encourage more parents to outline how their children are being short-changed this year. The site is http://myphillyschools.com/.
As a result of the district's financial crisis, schools have fewer teachers, aides and administrators. Many schools lack full-time guidance counselors, and itinerant counselors may be serving as many as seven different schools.
Gym said the 260 cases "were collected in less than two weeks time by parents all across the city who are starting to document - not just worries or fears - but actual harm that is being done to students."
Tomika Angelis from Parents United encouraged parents of all 134,000 students to document how their children are being affected.
"If you have a district child, you have a complaint," she said. "If you have a school with a run-around counselor, you have a complaint."
If the matter involves a student receiving special-education, the state must investigate within 60 days, said Sonja Kerr, senior attorney at the Public Interest Law Center.
She said advocates hope that the state follows that schedule in examining all complaints. So far, the documents come from 18 of the district's 212 schools.
Timothy Eller, education department spokesman, defended the operations in Philadelphia's schools.
"The state is confident that the district's administration is ensuring that programs and services required by state and federal laws and regulations are being provided to students," he said.
He said all complaints the department receives will be reviewed. Eller said the key to easing the district's financial woes is obtaining management reforms in negotiations with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers to obtain a $45 million grant from the state and other funds.
"The long-term solution to the district's fiscal challenges, one that will allow more resources to be directed toward the students and schools, remains an agreement with the PFT that achieves the savings and reforms identified by the School Reform Commission, as well as City Council extending and redirecting the 1 percent sales tax to the district," Eller said.
Also Thursday, the National Urban League and its Pennsylvania affiliates announced that they had sent a letter to Gov. Corbett urging him to immediately release the $45 million to the district and to create a committee to examine the state's funding formula for public schools.
Eller said: "Gov. Corbett thanks the Urban League for their input and asks them to join with him in urging the PFT to work with the SRC to accomplish the necessary savings and reforms that will put the district on a path to long-term financial sustainability and academic excellence."