The start of classes for Philadelphia’s 134,000 public school kids is not at all slowing down student and teacher activists who are furious about this year’s budget cutbacks.
Every Friday, the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools is setting up camp at a school to demand more funding from City Hall and the state government.
The group rallied today at the Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences, waving down cars and passing out fliers urging residents to file a formal complaint with the state’s education department over the cutbacks.
Eighth-grader Francheska Torres said she got involved because she misses having a full-time guidance counselor.
“Now that we don’t have that, I can’t control my anger issues,” she said. “It’s just harder for me. I get emotional.”
Brianna Escalante, who is also in the 8th grade, worries that the cuts will hurt her chances of enrolling next year at the prestigious magnet Julia R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School.
“It’s the No. 1 school in Pennsylvania,” she said. “We need a guidance counselor to tell us more about how to apply.”
High-school applications are usually due in late October. School district spokesman Fernando Gallard said a deadline for this year is expected to be finalized by next week.
In lieu of a full-time counselor, Gallard said 8th-grade advisory teachers at Feltonville will help guide students through the application process. The school has also been assigned a roving counselor whose time is split between several different schools.
Parent activist Victoria DeMarco is concerned that cuts are making Philadelphia’s schools less safe. She volunteers at the nearby Clara Barton Elementary School partly to keep watch over her daughter.
“When you send your kids to school nowadays, you are rolling the dice,” she said. “You are saying, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to see my kids again or in what shape I’m going to see my kids again.”
Safety is also on Escalante’s mind. In April, her school was put on temporary lockdown when students told their principal that a woman pointed a gun at them.
“I was terrified,” Escalante said.
According to NBC10, police later said the students apparently made up the incident.
Still, Escalante is afraid that her school won’t be prepared for an emergency with less staff.
In response to residents’ safety concerns, Gallard said, “On purpose, there were no cuts to schools’ safety personnel. We have the personnel available that we had last year to help with situations like that.”
The school district opened this month with 3,000 fewer guidance counselors, assistant principals, librarians, teachers and other employees due to budget-balancing cuts and attrition. Superintendent William Hite is hoping to hire back some staff by obtaining $133 in labor concessions and additional state money.