Rally decries cuts in school funding

Posted: April 07, 2011

About 300 people, most of them high school students, rallied at City Hall this morning to protest expected education budget cuts and to demand that arts programs be saved.

"Send Us to College Not to Jail," "Can't Spell Smart Without Art," and "Pay Now for Education or Pay Later," were some of the more than a dozen signs.

Society needs to spend less on prisoners and more on students, said Constititution High 10th-grader Jasmine Montenbon, 15, explaining her "Jail" sign.

To close a $629 million gap in funding, the Philadelphia School District seems fated to dramatically reduce staff and services.

After assembling outside district headquarters at 440 N. Broad Street, demonstrators made their way toward Dilworth Plaza, led by a couple dozen members of the Northeast High marching band.

"Our generation is all about the arts, and they're taking that away from us," said Northeast High junior Nathalie Diaz, 16, as she strode south on Broad Street.

Outside City Hall, a series of students and civic leaders, introduced by local NAACP head Jerome Mondesire, spoke about the benefits of arts programs and the risks of laying off teachers and cutting back on clubs and sports.

"These activities create dreams, passion and the motivation to succeed," said Central High junior Brandon Turner, who pointed out that extra-curricular activities help students impress colleges.

"How will we pay our taxes without people educated to work?" asked Councilman Curtis Jones Jr.

"Education is your generation's civil-rights issue," he told the young people.

Adina Goldstein, a sophomore at Masterman High, spoke of how playing the violin gave her "serenity and uninhibited joy," and how studies show that students who study music get higher SAT scores and better grades.

Anyone who says money isn't necessary for education "is completely off this planet," said Deputy Superintendent Leroy Nunery.

"We need things enhanced and increased," including kindergarten programs, nurses and counselors, said Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell.

"The 21st century economy is an economy based on creativity," said David Brigham, president of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

The City Hall rally also showcased the musical talents of a choir, the marching band and several solo vocalists, including Audenreid High sophomore Dyshanae Morris, who soulfully sang, "Change Is Gonna Come" before one of the final chants, "Save our schools."

Publicity materials said the rally was organized by a "grassroots coalition" under the banner "Our Students, Our Philly, Our Future."

Contact staff writer Peter Mucha at 215-854-4342 or pmucha@phillynews.com.