Philly parents anxiously await school funding — or dire decision by district

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On Friday, at the district’s annual E! Day: Back to School Expo, held at the High School of the Future in West Philly, many parents said they were shaken by the two prospects.

Decision day looms on the horizon.

In one week, the Philadelphia School District will announce its plans to deal with its $81 million budget gap.

Without additional funding, Superintendent William Hite says he will be forced to choose between two bad options: either lay off 1,300 staffers, mostly teachers, or save money by shortening the school year.

This could happen by opening schools late or closing early. 

Either way, by forgoing the state-mandated 180-day school calendar, the district would be sending a bold message to the Corbett administration and Pennsylvania lawmakers who have spent the summer squabbling over the Philadelphia cigarette tax authorization bill – the district’s best hope for a relatively large and immediate cash infusion.

Without that influx, exactly a month before schools are scheduled to open, parents have been once again left sitting anxiously in wait.

On Friday, at the district’s annual E! Day: Back to School Expo, held at the High School of the Future in West Philly, many parents said they were shaken by the two prospects.

“As a parent, I’m scared to death,” said Tonya Wildes, a parent of three.

Wildes’ oldest goes to a private high school, but her younger twin boys are about to enter second grade at West Philly’s Lea Elementary, where Wildes teaches.

“As a teacher, I’m also scared to death because of the classroom sizes, and I don’t think we’re going to have enough staff as usual,” she said. “And I don’t think they’re going to give us adequate supplies either.”

If the district decides on a full school year, Hite said teacher layoffs would cause class sizes across the district to balloon. Grades one through three would be capped at 37 students; grades four through eight would be capped at 40; and high school would be capped at 41.

Asked if she thought real learning could occur in a second-grade classroom of 37 students, Wildes said, “No. I teach first grade and I see how hard it is for first grade, and second grade it’s even worse. So, no.”

Lynette Ringgold has children going into second, fourth and fifth grades at Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary in North Philly.

She says staffing levels there have already been low, and she said she worries for her kids’ safety if there are further layoffs.

“I’ll probably have to sit with them some days,” she said. “Take time off, just to go up to the kids’ school to make sure they’re OK.”

Doing that, of course, would mean missing days of work, which Ringgold said would mean “less money and more bills.”

But, she said, “education is first for me and my kids and my family, so I gotta do what what I have to do as a parent.”

Akilyah Mainor has enrolled her 9- and 12-year-olds in Agora cyber charter, but she plans to continue sending her 5-year-old to Lowell Elementary in Olney. Her youngest was there for pre-K last year and will attend kindergarten this year.

Mainor said she’s worried about the school district as a whole, but not Lowell, because she has the utmost confidence in the principal and teachers there.

“Their principal, Mr. Lugo, like he goes above and beyond for that school, and I know either way he’ll make it worthwhile, regardless of what the funding is, and that was basically the situation last year,” she said.

But if the district doesn’t open schools on time, she said she would move her daughter to Agora cyber as well.

Either way, in the long run, she said she imagines all of her kids will end up graduating from charter high schools.

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