By Meredith Gallagher
While most of us spent the summer relaxing and enjoying the short break from our—let’s be honest—stellar education, elementary and high school students in Philadelphia spent most of their summers wondering what kind of school they would even have to return to. In the beginning of June, the Philadelphia public school district superintendent announced severe budget cuts that resulted in the closing of 23 schools and the layoffs of close to 4000 teachers, administrators, and support staff. This included every counselor in the district. You heard correctly: nearly 134,000 students in one of the largest school districts in the country and not a single counselor for one of them.
At the last minute, lawmakers were able to secure some extra money and re-hire about a quarter of the laid-off staff, including 127 school counselors. That’s not a whole lot to celebrate considering there will be no more than one counselor for every 1,000 students, the school district is still $300 million in the hole, and the budget leaves no room for new school supplies, librarians, art, or athletic programs.
But what’s really going on here? It’s difficult to keep the facts straight over the yelling and finger-pointing between the teachers’ unions, the mayor, the superintendent, and all the other adult players.
While state officials demand that teachers and staff agree to salary cuts and benefit rollbacks, school workers and union representatives say it’s the government’s fault for failing in their responsibility to provide adequate funding for public education. Philadelphia mayor, Michael Nutter, says he is searching for ways to come up with the money. So far, no viable solutions have been proposed.
While the adults argue amongst themselves, the children’s education—and futures—suffer.
So yes. The Philadelphia school system is failing. But really, our leadership is failing. If now is not the time to step up, cooperate, and compromise, then when is?