Good evening and thank you for your time tonight. I know everyone is busy - commissioners and community members alike - yet we are all here because of one core belief: we care about the children of Philadelphia.
It is for those children - our children - that I speak tonight. They are suffering. They are confused. They are angry. And all because of the broken promises we made to them. The public school system is a contract - one that we adults make with the future of this country: to ensure these kids are prepared for what lies ahead in the best way we know how. Unfortunately, at this moment, we are in breach of that contract.
In these dark times of budget cuts and lack of hope I often think about my grandmother. She was a teacher for 40 years of apartheid in South Africa. In addition to her day job at school she would volunteer on weekends to ensure rooms packed with those deemed second-class citizens were preparing themselves for a brighter future. She felt everyone deserves an education.
I understand that the problems we face in Philadelphia are different from what she faced in South Africa, but the message I bring to you is the same: this contract we have made applies to all students, regardless of neighborhood, race, socioeconomic status. Current budget decisions as well as the proposed reorganization plan are cutting into the heart of this belief and, I think, will result in a two-tiered education system in this city. Instead of dragging us into this potential debacle, work with us to ensure a better future - one that we and our children can be proud of; not one that allows the dissolution of the contract.
The matter boils down to two related problems: money and organization.
The budget has been cut to the bone. In my role I see the suffering every day: lack of resources for my students; inability of children to get medical care due to shortage of nurses; teachers unable to provide one-on-one attention due to increased class sizes; and more demands on everyone, leading to lower morale across the board. This is not the bright future we promised.
At the same time an outside firm is brought in to craft a plan to reorganize, paid for with money that could be leveraged to directly affect students now. Many in positions of power are negotiating with corporate entities instead of focusing on the problems of our students. With the decentralized nature of this plan, who will advocate for those children? We spend so much time talking about contracts for adults, we forget about the contract with the kids.
We need creativity and ideas to get through this financial crisis. We need more than just the status quo. I know you have been pressuring the city for finances but at the same time the community is surrounding you and could help. Instead of lobbying City Council, why not listen to us and get the assistance of very motivated people to analyze the budget, to contact our network, to demand change from not just the City, but also the State and local foundations. Perhaps if the William Penn Foundation saw a group of citizens taking charge they would offer $1.2 million to them instead of an outside company.
In 1918, John Garber - then superintendent - wrote that “a school system that is not costing a great deal these days is not worth a great deal.” In the years following this message the community rallied to build school after school, including the Academy at Palumbo, where I work.
The rallying cry of citizens getting involved is in line with what we want our students to feel in the future: civic connection and responsibility. We have parents, students, teachers, administrators, and community members who long to assist in the planning. Get us involved. Bring us up to speed. We have plenty of volunteer hours to spend on the goal of ensuring our children are prepared for what is to come.
We can do better. We must do better. Please, let us help.