Sen. Hughes urges Cook-Wissahickon community to speak out against deeper budget cuts

State Sen. Vincent Hughes’ advice to the Cook-Wissahickon community was clear: tell Gov. Tom Corbett to stop slighting basic education.

“We’ve got to make things viral to make a change,” said Hughes during a Friday afternoon visit to the Roxborough elementary school.

“He’s got to get a phone call; he’s got to get an email; he’s got to get a letter,” Hughes added. “He’s got to get some kind of communication.”

Hughes’ suggestion came following the release of Corbett’s second budget proposal earlier this month, which includes another round of cuts to public education. If approved, $100 million worth of accountability block grants would be slashed statewide.

For the severely cash-strapped School District of Philadelphia, the cut could mean a $21.6 million loss – an unimaginable thought for the parents, students and staff at Cook-Wissahickon.

Already the school has significantly cut its staff and programming.

An assistant principal, kindergarten teacher, a school police officer and four out of five noontime aides were among the positions that were cut following Corbett’s inaugural budget, which took nearly $1 billion from basic education.

The school’s Spanish curriculum and mentally gifted program also disappeared.

“It seems to me that the Governor doesn’t care,” Carol Haslam, who heads Cook-Wissahickon Home & School Association, told Hughes inside the school’s lunchroom. “It seems to me he only cares about who can fund his political endeavors.”

Hughes countered, saying Corbett also cares about getting re-elected and should be told that his chances of that will vanish if public education continues to suffer under his administration. Hughes said Corbett isn’t expecting to get that political message from members of individual school communities like Cook-Wissahickon.

“They’re making a wager that the only people who are going to raise some noise are folks who are traditional education advocates,” he said. “We’re fighting an ideology here.”

Hughes, the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, added that his party will be making some noise of its own as the budget process unfolds. Hughes said there are places to cut outside of basic education that could help balance the state’s budget.

Hughes said there is a $235 million corporate tax cut in the works that could be delayed or halved. The state’s myriad prescription drug programs for state employees could additionally be condensed down to two or three from 17. 

Following Friday’s community forum, Cook-Wissahickon parent JoAnn Rogan said, somehow, something must change; she’s not sure she can keep her two sons at the school if further cuts need to be made.

“I sat in this meeting in tears because I love my community, but I may not be able to stay if the school doesn’t get better,” said Rogan. “They keep taking away and not giving anything back.”

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