Spring Garden Elementary School and Julia R. Masterman Middle and High School are prime examples of schools working to combat recent budget cuts from the School District of Philadelphia. Parents, students and businesses are working together to ensure the basic educational needs of students are met.
The proposed 2014 budget does not include enough funds for counselors, librarians, secretaries, classroom aides, extracurricular programming, summer programs or even an assistant principal.
“The school district’s action plan released earlier this year is based on the premise that we will improve academic outcomes and ensure the districts long term fiscal sustainability,” said Superintendent Dr. William Hite. “We must achieve both by sharing the sacrifice for our students.”
During a monthly meeting held by the School Reform Commission of the School District of Philadelphia, community members voiced their outrage and concerns about the 2014 budget cuts.
“I formed a real bond with many of the students, as well as the community members, and people don’t realize [the role] that counselors play within a school forming relationships and providing a consistent loving approach to their problems,” said public school counselor Donna Kutzer.
The shortage of school counselors was not the only concern parents had with the proposed budget cuts.
“When most parents saw the 2014 budget there was not a collective cry of unity and support,” said Helen Gym, president of Parents United for Public Education, “most were sickened and outraged by a budget that violates the contractual moral duty to educate children in this city.”
Parents United for Public Education is a group of parents invested in the public school education of their children in Philadelphia. Its members hope to create a dialogue between parents and the School District of Philadelphia on the budget as well as other concerns.
Gym said she believes the district is moving further away from the basic understanding and commitment to the fundamental social contract of education.
“We did not arrive at this budget situation as a doomsday scenario by accident or due to misfortune. We are here because of a set of conscious choices,” Gym said.
District teachers are also concerned about the fiscal well-being of education in the city.
Louis “Luigi”Borda, a geography teacher at Masterman, created a fundraiser to raise money for the middle school’s athletic program. Laps for Education was launched on June 11, 2012 when students ran quarter-mile laps around the perimeter of the school to raise money for each lap they completed.
“They cut the middle school budget to zero for athletics and the principal said we have no money,” Borda said. “So jokingly I said to her how much money do you need? And she said it would be great if we could have $10,000, so we raised $10,300 in one day.”
More than 70 children participated in raising money for the Laps for Education program.
“We were getting children to empty their piggy banks and children who were finding coins on the street to run,” said parent Cheryl Muldowney.
Borda said he hopes the program will evolve into an annual citywide event to help raise funding for schools’ athletic programs. The event will continue this year with a goal of raising $20,000.
Local businesses have also shown interest in assisting schools with funding. Hite said he believes sponsorship from corporations and small businesses plays an instrumental role in making sure the basic needs of students are met.
“[The district has] a couple of groups who have come in and actually managed some of the libraries. They were funded through other sources like Target. We are partnering with the Free Library and WePAC,” Hite said.
The Philadelphia-based law firm White and Williams LLP. sponsored Masterman last year.
“We provided them with a $10,000 check as well as scholarships to certain seniors who had to enter an essay contest,” said White and Williams attorney Michael Olsan. “We also did things throughout the year with cleanup and with other help around the school as needed such as attending events of the students and that type of thing.”
Olsan said he believes it is important for White and Williams to support its neighboring communities. The firm adopted Masterman during the spring of 2012 until the end of this calendar year.
“The thought was you had a school with some very high achievers in it but still a school that was experiencing a severe budget crisis,” Olsan said. “We thought it would be a good introduction into this program of adopting schools and helping those students that are not high achievers get what they need to achieve the success that they are capable of.”
On March 22, the firm adopted Spring Garden Elementary School.
“I think that one of the things we were struck with was that Spring Garden Elementary School has an absence of a school library,” Olsan said.
The ability for schools to continue providing quality education will depend on the involvement of parents, teachers and businesses to push through insufficient funding. Partnerships with businesses like White and Williams LLP. have helped substantially with the schools’ budgets, but parents along with other local residents continue to fight the district’s huge budget cuts.
“Most parents did this in spite of what has been done to our schools, not because of what has been done for us,” Gym said.