Crowd Says No to Charters at Schools Meeting
School Reform Commission receives earful from people at Girls High info session.
Charter schools were on the minds of parents, teachers and students who attended a School Reform Commission info session Thursday night. Those who spoke to school district members at the Philadelphia High School for Girls firmly opposed plans to encourage more seats in charter schools.
Through signs, cheers and speeches the overwhelming message the crowd delivered was: "Don't blow up our schools."
"The SRC says it is committed to the best schools for children—what was missing from that is the word 'public,'" said teacher Diane Payne from Mayfair Elementary School in Northeast Philadelphia. "Don't pretend the hodgepodge of choices is real reform."
SRC Commissioners Lorene Cary and Feather Houstoun with Chief Academic Officer Penny Nixon attended the hearing to debunk rumors, discuss active proposals, and answer public comment.
Following the adminstration of Arlene Ackerman, the School District of Philadelphia finds itself in a financial hole. Short-term, the district must dig out of a $218 million budget shortfall for 2013, a figure that could rise. After closing eight schools this year, the district has announced a plan to close 40 more schools next year and 24 more by 2017. The plan is to reward achieving schools, sell older buildings, and increase seats in charter schools.
Houstoun's remarks set out to explain initiatives. She said there's no rock solid way to make 40 percent of students attend charter schools. Instead, she said that number is a projection of the number of students that will attend charter schools by 2017.
School district spokesperson Deirdre Darragh later said that number is based on "analysis of the historical growth data and current charter agreements for growth and seat expansion."
Houstoun continued to emphasize that what's discussed are proposals—the public has ample chance to weigh in.
"The process will be a yearlong process where we talk about the criteria," she said, adding no list exists for closures.
The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has vocally opposed both the charter school push and neighborhood school closure. Its members were out in full force Thursday.
"You are charged to protect the school district—not sever its needs," Girls High teacher Joseph Marchetti said. "We need a home-grown superintendent, a home-grown SRC."
At times, the meeting devolved into speakers chastizing the district members and the crowd egging them on.
Commissioner Cary said that no one was happy to be in the position the district was in.
"We understand that this an inadequate level of funding. Sometimes in the conversation, it seems the SRC thinks it's acceptable. But it's our job to figure out what to do with less. What we don't want to do is put the district in further crisis," she said.
Some parents spoke out and said the SRC needed to actively lobby for more state funding. Because three SRC members are appointed by the commonwealth, citizens reasoned the district would be better served by more local representation.
Houstoun said Gov. Corbett was aware of Philadelphia's situation, and more money didn't seem like an option currently.
"The prospect of changing the governor's basic education funding is very small," she said.
The SRC is meeting Friday morning to discuss charter school renewal at 9 a.m.
Editor's note: An earlier version incorrectly stated what the 40 percent charter school population figure indicated. It has since been changed.