10-year-old, others ask City Council to fund schools

Posted: May 02, 2013

THE BACKGROUND chatter usually present in City Council chambers during testimony stopped suddenly yesterday when a young boy with a confident voice addressed Council.

"This entire paper, double-sided, is filled with horror of what's going on," Guillermo Santos said, referring to proposed budget cuts at his school, John Moffett Elementary. "Here, I'll read you the horrors."

The bespectacled fourth-grader read from the sheet, "Autistic support, gone. Bilingual, gone. Secretary, gone. No more books."

Santos, 10, the son of longtime city activist Cheri Honkala, was among dozens of students, parents, advocates, teachers, principals and volunteers who urged Council members to agree to the district's $60 million request for funding as the city's schools face what officials have called a "dire situation."

The district is facing a $304 million shortfall in the upcoming budget and seeks to close the gap with $60 million from the city, $120 million from the state and $133 million from across-the-board pay cuts.

"You can take it out of anything else. Wars. Prison. Give it to the children," Santos said. "Without schools, we'll be going to those other things."

Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez said Council has stepped up in the past two years and found funding for the schools, but the state has not. Members hope that changes this year.

"We can't do all the heavy lifting," Sanchez said. "We need the state to step up and do something. That's their SRC [School Reform Commission]. That's their responsibility."

She said Council President Darrell Clarke has asked Gov. Corbett to meet with City Council members.

If Corbett refuses additional funding to Philly's schools, she said, "We want to hear it from the governor."

Many parents who spoke at the hearing also urged City Council to find the funding for a variety of reasons: to preserve the city's future, keep neighborhoods strong and uphold the social pact the city has with its citizens.

One father, Assistant District Attorney Robert Petrone, turned the tables on Council members so that they could envision and relate to what the schools would go through without the $60 million.

"Imagine, if you will, City Hall with just a mayor and the 17 members of City Council. No secretaries. No support staff. No aides of any kind," Petrone said as the crowd burst out in loud applause. "How well would you be able to serve the public under these conditions?"

Petrone, whose three children attend Meredith Elementary School in Queen Village, called the proposed budget "a de facto closing of all Philadelphia public schools."

On Twitter: @ReginaMedina

Online: ph.ly/DNEducation

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