Students rally against looming cuts outside Philly School District headquarters

    Philadelphia School District students are furious that they may have to endure even more budget cuts after they’ve already lost several nurses, central office staff members and a beloved annual musical at the High School for Creative And Performing Arts.

    A group of roughly 250 students marched to the district’s headquarters at 440 N. Broad St., where they held their own sort of musical to protest the potential cuts on Tuesday afternoon.

    They danced and played instruments. They waved around signs that read, “Schools Are Not a Business” and “Money for Education, Not Incarceration.” 

    They sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which was famously performed in 1900 by African-American students celebrating Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.

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    The school district is facing a $300 million deficit next fiscal year, officials say, if the city, state and labor unions don’t chip in.

    District officials are asking for an additional $60 million from the city and $120 million from the state. Without it, they’ve warned schools will have to do without guidance counselors, librarians and extracurricular activities.

    Rebecca Chalil, a senior at the High School for Creative and Performing Arts, said she can’t imagine additional cuts. She said losing a musical was a huge blow to her classmates’ morale.

    “We had one every year in the past,” she said. “To cut something that’s so important to us, it just made us feel as if we were less important than other people in the city.”

    Like Chalil, high school senior Vincia Velasquez feels that her school, the Philadelphia Military Academy at Elverson, has already lost enough.

    “There’s almost nothing left to cut,” she said. “Our school actually doesn’t have a nurse right now.”

    School district spokesman Fernando Gallard said officials don’t want to go through with the planned cuts, either. That’s why, he said, they’re asking for additional funding.

    “These are cuts that should not happen,” Gallard said. “But we are going to have to work with the revenue we have.”

    During the rally, Superintendent William Hite Jr. met with a small group of students at their request. Gallard said the students demanded a seat at the table.

    “They asked to be included in the planning of budgets,” Gallard said. “And [Hite] said that, absolutely, that they should be part of it.”

    Mayor Michael Nutter supports additional funding for the schools, and some City Council members say they’re open to raising that money by possibly increasing the liquor-by-the-drink tax.

    But that’s far from certain. Many Council members are frustrated that the state hasn’t contributed more, whereas they’ve voted to raise property taxes in recent years to boost schools funding.

    Several students said they’re thinking about making City Hall and Harrisburg the sites of future protests.

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