Philly school principals appeal directly to parents for cash

 Meredith Elementary School, located on 5th and Fitzwater streets in Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/for NewsWorks)

Meredith Elementary School, located on 5th and Fitzwater streets in Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/for NewsWorks)

“Free” public education just got a bit more expensive for parents at Center City’s Greenfield Elementary School.

Feeling a pinch from the Philadelphia School District’s budget shortfall, Greenfield Principal Dan Lazar has sent parents an “urgent request” asking families to contribute $613 per student.

NOTE: In response to several comments from readers, this story has been clarified in a separate item published on Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013.

“Free” public education just got a bit more expensive for parents at Center City’s Greenfield Elementary School.

 Feeling a pinch from the Philadelphia School District’s budget shortfall, Greenfield Principal Dan Lazar has sent parents an “urgent request” asking families to contribute $613 per student.

“It is my sincere hope that this will only be a temporary measure, but unfortunately our new reality necessitates such a drastic request,” Lazar said in his email to parents, putting Greenfield on a small but growing list of city public schools which at some point have made direct money pitches to parents.

The Philadelphia school district faces a $304 million budget gap, forcing layoffs of teachers and other personnel. If today were the first day of classes, district schools would open without counselors, front office staff, noontime aides and other staff, as well as a lack of basic school supplies such as paper and pens.

Lazar said the budget hit to Greenfield, thanks to the district shortfall, is $355,740. He came up with his per pupil request by dividing that figure by an estimate of enrollment for the coming year.

On Thursday, Philadelphia School District Superintendent William Hite said he will not be able to open all schools on time on a full-day schedule — unless the city comes through with a promised $50 million that was part of a funding package cobbled together last June by Gov. Tom Corbett. Mayor Nutter and Council President Darrell Clarke are still squabbling over how to make that contribution.

In making his plea, Lazar noted similar efforts at other district schools, including Science Leadership Academy and William M. Meredith. District spokesman Fernando Gallard added to that list Penn Alexander, Cook-Wissahickon and Central High School as district schools that, at some point, have asked for some sort of family contribution.

Gallard said this step by principals is “not normal, but these aren’t normal times.” 

“As a school we’re fortunate enough to be in a neighborhood that has a higher level of income than other parts of the city,” Lazar said in a phone interview. “There are people who have means who’ve decided that they are making a commitment to public education. They don’t want to move to the suburbs. They don’t want to send their kids to private school. They believe in public schools.”

Lazar said he hopes that families who cannot afford to contribute fully will be subsidized by families of greater means, which he hopes will contribute more than he’s requested.

Before becoming principal at Greenfield, Lazar worked at Clara Barton Elementary, which serves typically low-income families in North Philadelphia. With neighborhoods like that in mind, Lazar said he fears the day family contributions become less rarity, more “norm.”

“If education goes this way, those schools are the big losers, and that’s scary,” he said.

Before Greenfield can accept the contributions for use in its operating budget, the donation (if above $25,000) will have to be approved by the School Reform Commission through a resolution.

“Sadly it is becoming a trend more and more in public schools,” Lazar said, “which is unfortunate because in some ways the burden of funding schools is in some ways taken off the state.”

UPDATE: Aug. 10, 2013

District spokesman Fernando Gallard confirmed Saturday that the six schools mentioned in the article have, at some point, requested contributions from their families, alumni, friends of the school and the general public to support the schools’ operating budgets. But Gallard said that Greenfield’s per student donation suggestion is unusual.

Cook-Wissahickon Principal Karen Thomas said that past budget shortfalls have propelled her to ask parents to send children to school with a ream of paper.

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