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Year-round schools, safety and more funding are just some of the key issues the School District of Philadelphia hopes to tackle in Tuesday’s Inaugural State of Public Education address.
School Board President Reginald Streater, Esq. and Mayor Cherelle Parker will join Superintendent Tony B. Watlington, Sr. as he delivers his first Public Education address to the city.
Ahead of the event tomorrow, Watlington sat down with members of the media to outline the key issues he plans to tackle and previewed the obstacles they face as a district.
Funding came up as the major concern. Watlington says that the district’s $1.2 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds will run out in September.
The district’s current budget is $4.5 billion and will be reduced to $3.3 billion once the additional funding is gone.
“Those federal dollars were to offset the impact of the pandemic in school districts like the school district of Philadelphia that were already historically underfunded,” said Watlington.
Pa.’s Commonwealth Court ruled the state’s current system of school funding is unconstitutional.
Brett Schaeffer, Special Director of Policy, released a statement stating that “The District is encouraged by the recommendations of the Basic Education Funding Commission, which earlier this month identified a state adequacy gap of $5.4 billion — $1.4 billion for the School District of Philadelphia and put forward a plan to provide that funding over the next several years.”
The District awaits the Governor’s budget address next week for more details of future funding. Meanwhile, the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia announced they will be stepping in to provide some additional support.
President Kathryn Epps Roberson will announce the details surrounding a new goal to raise $40 million over the next 4.5 years to help fund the “Accelerate Philly” plan.
“That is our commitment to the district, to make strategic investments that align directly back to strategic actions in [the Accelerate Philly plan],” says Epps Roberson.
In addition to funding, a year-round school calendar is a hotly discussed topic among parents and educators.
Mayor Parker suggested the district could benefit from having students attend school year-round during her campaign for office.
It’s a sentiment Watlington agrees with. “Who’s to say that the school day should just be 180 days,” said Watlington.
“Schools are a safe haven; we want more time, not less time in school. Many of our children get food at schools, they get social and emotional support at schools. They get a lot of structure, and their needs are met at school.”
Watlington says they are in the planning stages to roll out a pilot program for year-round schools that could begin as early as next year, but he recognizes that parents need to be on board before implementing change.
“We think it’s important that we make this an option that parents can opt in, instead of the superintendent saying, ‘You’re going to school on this calendar.’ We are taking our time to build demand,” says Watlington.
The district has also battled with crime. During the 2022-23 school year, 199 students were shot in Philadelphia and 33 of those shootings were fatal, the school district’s Deputy Chief of Communications Monique Braxton said. One 14-year-old, Nicolas Elizalde, student was killed on school grounds.
Watlington pointed to the promotion of Craig Johnson as Deputy Chief of School Safety to illustrate that safety is a priority for the district.
The safe paths program from school offers adult supervision for students to and from school. In TIME SPAN the number of schools taking part has increased from just seven to 20.
But it all boils down to the budget and what the district says they will need to improve as a 21st century school.
Buildings that lack air conditioning and asbestos proved major concerns for the community. Watlington promises they are working on those issues and will continue to make them a priority.
The event is by invitation only, but the public can view via a livestream feed beginning at 10 a.m. on the District’s Facebook Page and PSTV. PSTV also streams on Comcast/Xfinity Channel 52 and Verizon Fios 20.