More than 1,000 Philadelphia teachers, parents, students and supporters marched through a rainstorm in Center City Thursday to protest school budget cuts and thousands of layoffs.
The peaceful crowd walked from the Comcast Center to City Hall, and eventually to the school district’s headquarters, waving signs and chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Corbett has got to go!”
When the protesters arrived at their final destination, the rain finally let up. A series of school district employees, students and union leaders gave speeches outside where the School Reform Commission was meeting.
Ted Kirsch, president of the American Federation of Teachers’ state chapter, had a simple message: “We have one thing to say to the people inside: Shame on you!”
The school district laid off nearly 4,000 employees earlier this year. Superintendent William Hite said he will only be able to hire back about 1,600 of those workers with the money currently in hand.
Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said that budget cuts are cheating the city’s schoolkids.
“It is a disgrace that the SRC, the governor, the mayor are allowing this to happen,” he said. “We cannot stop, we will not stop, until we get full funding and a sustainable funding formula for this school district.”
The PFT is currently negotiating a new contract with the district, which is asking for pay and benefit givebacks.
After the SRC meeting, Hite told reporters that he, too, is upset about the funding cuts.
“This is on everybody’s mind, and it’s a serious situation,” he said. “It’s going to take everybody to help and contribute.”
He said that the city and state governments have chipped in, though “it wasn’t necessarily how we asked for it to come.” Now, he wants the teachers’ union to make concessions in order to help shore up the budget.
“We know that’s a hard ask. We would much rather be in a position to be talking about how much more we should pay teachers,” he said. “Unfortunately, we’re just not in that environment now.”
With a $304 million budget shortfall, the school district this year requested an extra $60 million from the city, $120 million from the state, and $133 million in labor concessions, mostly from the PFT.
The city has promised $78 million. The state provided an extra $2 million, and Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration has vowed to give another $45 million if the PFT agrees to a contract with substantial concessions.
The PFT, whose contract expires Aug. 31, has not accepted any givebacks so far. Jordan has said that Philadelphia teachers are already paid 13 to 19 percent less than those in nearby counties, and spend as much as $1,000 annually on classroom supplies.
The SRC voted Thursday to OK license agreements for five Renaissance charters, and change its anti-bullying policy. Read more about the meeting on NewsWorks.org’s partner site, the Notebook.