Shunning a claim by Philadelphia school officials that the city only needs $50 million to open school doors on September 9th, parents, students and community leaders are threatening a district-wide boycott of the city's public schools if the city does not secure the full amount of funding necessary to ensure safe, effective schools.
"Unless the schools get what's needed for them to educate children and not open buildings, we don't think school should open either," said Helen Gym, a public school parent and founder of the activist group Parents United for Public Education.
Critics are saying that Superintendent William Hite is short-changing the public school system when he announced Thursday that if the city could not come up with the amount of $50 million by Friday, August 16, Philadelphia's 218 public schools would not open their doors as scheduled on September 9. The $50 million sum is significantly less than the $180 million initially requested by the school district to avoid a "doomsday" budget scenario.
“These cuts are destroying my future. They’re destroying all of our futures. It’s not right. It’s not fair,” said student Sharron Snyder, who is going into her senior year at Benjamin Franklin High School. “Since they cut my counselor, I won’t have anyone there to help me with my college application,” she added.
At a townhall meeting Monday evening, community members met to discuss the school district's budget shortfall.
"[This] is a community wide response to the notion that we're looking at funding schools so that buildings can open, rather than funding schools that can educate children," Gym continued. "The money that [Hite] asked for is necessary but not sufficient to operate our schools. That's just a terrible and dangerous standard for our district to put out there."
"What we are saying is if $180 [million] is what you need to make the schools safe, we don't want our children entering schools if they're not safe on September 9," added Reverend Dr. Kevin R. Johnson, pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church, who earlier Monday—along with roughly 150 other church leaders, parents, students and school activists—rallied outside the School District headquarters.
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Chanting "it's not enough," the group said $50 million will not provide the quality education students deserve, a local NBC affiliate reports.
"We have not come here just to give speeches but to light a fire," Reverend Johnson said. "We will fan this fire until the money comes from city hall and from Harrisburg to adequately fund our schools. We will not stop fanning this fire until city and state officials come up with $180 million this week."
A spokesman for POWER, a coalition of 41 local church congregations, says the group plans to undergo a statewide coalition, contacting and mobilizing voters in key districts and races in the coming year to promote a permanent funding formula for Pennsylvania public schools.
“There is a panic, from the pulpit to the pew to the public square,” said Reverend Jay Broadnax, pastor of Mt. Piscah AME Church in West Philadelphia. “We’re tired of being put off by those who would prioritize political positioning, and not prioritize our children.”
The budget crisis follows massive layoffs this spring when roughly 3,800 school employees, including aides, assistant principals, social workers and arts teachers, were eliminated by the school system. In March, the school board voted to shut down 23 of the city's public schools, disproportionately shuttering those in minority communities.
CBS Philly has this report: