Four years after Pennsylvania state budget cuts reduced recurring funding for Philadelphia classrooms by $294 million dollars, Mayor Michael Nutter and Gov. Tom Wolf propose to put nearly that much money back into the Philadelphia School District.
For its part, the school district is showing — not telling — what the added $264 million dollars would do, by holding a series of community budget meetings at neighborhood schools.
Nearly three-quarters of the money would go directly to schools, according to Matt Stanski, the district’s chief financial officer.
“The change that we want to see is going to happen at the school, and that’s where the resources need to go,” Stanski said at the first meeting, held at Northeast High School.
Around 20 parents, teachers and students joined school district officials in the Northeast auditorium, where Stanski laid out the District’s budget numbers.
Principal Sharon McCloskey walked attendees through exactly what the full budget increase would buy her school. With an additional $1,286,820, Northeast high could hire eighteen new staff: seven new teachers, a new counselor, a new secretary and nine noontime aides. Northeast High is by far the largest school in the District, so its budget increase would be larger than that of other District schools.
McCloskey said that money would also update classroom technology, including smart boards, and give every 9th grade student access to a tablet. The money would upport over 60 afterschool programs as well.
The meeting also brought to focus just how much students and teachers at the school currently do without.
Qwajarik Sims, 17, a senior at Northeast said the college admissions process had been stressful with only one counselor for the school’s 500 seniors. “There’s one man responsible for every senior in the school.”
One teacher, from an autistic support classroom, described not having enough resources to fulfill her students’ legally-mandated individualized education program, or IEP. “When you say money will come back, I need money just to maintain,” she said about paying out of her own pocket to make sure students could meet their goals. Another teacher described how many after school activities at Northeast High School existed because volunteered to run them, for no additional pay.
“Power of one”
It’s these stories, and the people telling them, the district wants to mobilize.
To get the proposed increases, $105 million from the proposed city budget and $159 from Gov. Wolf’s proposed state budget, supporters will have to convince City Council and a Republican-majority legislature to approve different, and in some cases more, taxes.
President of the Philadelphia Education Fund Darren Spielman called on the audience to demonstrate the “power of one.”
“Call one council member, call one legislator, visit one council person’s office, write a letter, recruit one person to do the same,” said Spielman.
“I expected a lot more for this meeting. I don’t see too many parents here,” said parent and school volunteer Joseph Cartagena.
His adult daughter Monica Torres said the meeting seemed positive, but actions speak louder than words. “I definitely am going to write a letter. That was my main reason for coming out here, because I want to know what I can do,” said Torres.
Even with services held equal, fixed costs for the District will lead to a total expenditure increase of $90.6 million between the current and next school year. Ninety-seven percent of that increase comes from four types of outlays: charter costs ($40.8 million), pensions ($33.8 million), healthcare ($9.7 million) and debt ($3.3 million).
While asking for parents to support the target $264 million budget, the District is planning on a more modest increase: just enough to close its $85 million budget deficit for 2015-2016.