As students and parents from Northwest and West Philly headed to City Hall on Wednesday morning to protest proposed school budget cuts, Mayor Michael Nutter was proposing a plan he says would more than cover the $60 million the school district seeks from the city.
The proposal would tack a $2 tax onto the cost of a pack of cigarettes as well as increase the liquor-by-the-drink tax from 10 percent to 15 percent. Nutter also recommitted the city to collecting taxes currently owed to the district. He estimated his proposal would bring $95 million in new funds to city schools.
Reactions to the proposal were mixed among the crowd of protesters at City Hall.
“It’s about our kids, so if you raise taxes, that’s fine with me. We don’t know what will happen to our youth with these cuts,” said Hakim Henry, the father of a second-grader at Powel Samuel Elementary School, adding that he believes taxes on cigarettes and alcohol should be raised anyway.
Curtis Roberts, a C.W. Henry Elementary School parent with three kids in the Philadelphia school system, said he doesn’t believe the proposal goes far enough.
“This depends on somebody purchasing something. Kids have the right to a proper education so they can grow up to be productive citizens. If people choose not to purchase these things, where will the money come from?” he said.
Families from Mt. Airy’s C.W. Henry and West Philadelphia’s Powel and Penn Alexander Schools, as well as representatives from Wissahickon Charter School and Masterman Elementary, took to City Council chambers to meet with council members and explain the impact cuts to the school budget would have on them.
Eric Hagen, a third-grader at Penn Alexander, said the cuts to his school’s budget would affect the library, a change he can’t imagine.
Hagen was reading a Tintin book, a series he says is his favorite second only to Harry Potter, on the steps outside Councilman David Oh’s office as his mom talked budget politics with other parents and city representatives.
“I would be depressed if they took away the library,” he said. “My school library has a lot of books the Free Library [of Philadelphia] doesn’t have that I really enjoy reading.”
His classmate Orion Simonian-Taylor added that, even though art and music aren’t his favorite subjects, school would be boring without those classes.
Paula Hanson, a parent of a C.W. Henry kindergartner, said that parents are stretched too thin as it is and that she worries they will no longer be able to step up to mitigate the impact of future cuts.
Hanson is a recording engineer and began volunteering to staff the front desk at C.W. Henry for a few hours every day to fill in after administrative staff was cut. While she is there, she works remotely from her iPad and laptop.
“I have a multi-million dollar project in the works that I do from the front desk of Henry because I have to,” she said.
“Neighborhood schools are important for the city and for a sense of community. There’s only so much parents can do before it just crumbles like a house of cards.”