Protests at city schools over teacher losses the "final straw"

Posted: October 28, 2013

YESTERDAY WAS another day of protests against the school district - this time for its decision to transfer teachers out of two already understaffed schools, Cook-Wissahickon and Sharswood.

Janine McAlonan, a parent at Sharswood in South Philadelphia, could have spoken for all affected schools yesterday when she told the Daily News, "There are tears all over the school. They want these teachers to stay."

The forced transfers are due to the annual "leveling process" that is expected to be completed Monday. During the process, the district determines actual enrollment numbers at its schools and assesses whether more or fewer educators, in accordance with student-teacher ratios, are needed in each building.

"Leveling" will likely result in increased class sizes and, at Cook-Wissahickon, combined grades.

District spokesman Fernando Gallard said it was unfortunate that schools had combined grades - about 100 total classes to date - but they couldn't all be eliminated.

"We believe we can significantly reduce a number of split classes by 40 to 50 percent" through the leveling process said Gallard, who added that the union could do its part to reduce such classes.

"One hundred and thirty-three million dollars is sitting at the table. There's a great sense of urgency on our part to get those savings as quickly as possible," he said.

The funds parents were hoping would save the day - the $45 million onetime state grant released Oct. 16 - won't be used for hiring classroom teachers.

Superintendent William R. Hite Jr., at a parents' meeting last week, explained how the $45 million would be spent, including to restore 60 to 80 guidance counselors, extend instrumental music and sports until the end of the year, for Individualized Education Programs, and $10 million to be held in reserve for payments to charter schools, which may have higher enrollment numbers this year.

The loss of teachers as the state released the funds was one hit too many for some parents, who endured, among other things, the funding crisis and uncertainty about schools opening, they said.

"This was the final straw, losing teachers that people care about very much," said parent Tom Alexander, co-president of the Cook-Wissahickon Home and School Association.

The protest was held "in the small hope of making change," Alexander said.

McAlonan and about 120 other parents, teachers and students marched from their South Philly school up Broad Street, chanting "Save Our Teachers." Once they arrived at the district building on Broad Street near Spring Garden, a few protesters tried to hand a petition to Hite, who wasn't available, said Jeannine Dembeck-Ricchezza, one of the affected teachers.

Assistant superintendent Dion Betts accepted the petition, Gallard said.

"I don't think it's fair that I have to leave my kids behind," Dembeck-Ricchezza said.

On Twitter: @ReginaMedina


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