Mifflin school community calls for public officials to put education first

Students, parents and community leaders turned out Thursday afternoon for a Rally for Public Education at Thomas Mifflin Elementary School in East Falls.

The latest in a series of Northwest-based outreach efforts, participants called on elected officials and policy makers in Philadelphia and Harrisburg to fund the School District at the requested levels.

At present, the Philadelphia School District is projecting a $304 million deficit for the 2013-2014 school year budget, which could mean the loss of assistant principals, guidance counselors, librarians, music teachers, athletics and summer programming.

At present, PSD leaders hope to address the deficit with a $60 million request to the city and a $120 million request to the state, with the difference ballasted by labor concessions.

Currently, several measures are being put forward to address the budget. As reported by NewsWorks, Mayor Michael Nutter is proposing a 5-percent raise in the liquor-by-the-drink tax, a $2 tax on every pack of cigarettes, and is pledging to collect taxes currently owed to the School District.

The three-pronged approach is expected to raise an extra $95 million in city tax revenue, $35 million more than the total requested by school officials. Beyond these mayoral initiatives, proposals exist for raising the city’s use and occupancy tax and modernizing the state’s liquor stores.

Regardless of the means, vested parties are asking that funding be restored, noting that funding disparities already exist between city students and their suburban counterparts.

“We do so much more in Philadelphia with so much less,” said Nicole Boyd, a third-grade teacher at Mifflin.

Making education a priority 

George Matysik, co-chair of the Friends of Mifflin School Committee, described the East Falls elementary school as the “backbone of the community” on Thursday, an observation reinforced by an inscription on the building that states, “The foundation of every state is the education of its youth.”

“We’re still learning that lesson, and every time Harrisburg and the city delays that funding, we’re chipping away at that foundation,” said Matysik. “We are eroding the future of our commonwealth.”

The Friends of Mifflin School, formed in June 2012 as a committee of the East Falls Community Council, has already raised thousands of dollars to supplement arts and science education at Mifflin, according to FOM members. In fact, Thursday morning was the second of two performances of a musical, “On the Other Side of the Fence,” that Mifflin students participated in as a result of FOM underwriting.

However, without additional city and state funding, these programs are slated for elimination from the School District’s curriculum.

Joyce Wilkerson, an East Falls resident and former chief of staff for Mayor John Street, asked public officials to place education funding at the top of budgetary priority lists. 

“If it’s really that important – if it’s really a priority,” said Wilkerson, “we should fund education first.”

‘You’re not at it alone’ 

While FOM members are urging public officials to adequately fund public schools, they are also hoping to leverage the thousands of dollars raised privately. Beyond the practical impact of FOM fundraising, Matysik sees the money as sending a message to political leaders, telling them “you’re not at it alone.”

“We’re here to support [them] as well, both monetarily and in terms of raising awareness of the importance of education in our community,” he explained. “We see dark clouds overhead, but we want [politicians] to recognize that we are standing with [them] and that we need full funding for education in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and in the City of Philadelphia.”

Desirous of partnership, Matysik impressed upon those gathered the importance – and scope – of their advocacy for public education.

“There’s an old adage in government spending, talking about a million here, million there, then you’re starting to talk about real money,” he said. “Well, guess what folks, this $304 million is real money.”

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