Corbett cancels school appearance amid heavy protests

MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Carol Henry, who says she has 23 grandchildren in Philadelphia schools, protests yesterday against Gov. Corbett.
MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Carol Henry, who says she has 23 grandchildren in Philadelphia schools, protests yesterday against Gov. Corbett.
Posted: January 19, 2014

A SWARM of protesters who gathered outside Central High School yesterday morning in anticipation of Gov. Corbett's first visit to a district-run Philadelphia public school found a bit of irony: a no-show governor.

Corbett, who has been criticized for cutting nearly $1 billion from education during his time in office, abruptly canceled the appearance. Instead, he held a news conference at his Center City office, claiming he did want to cause a distraction.

"I don't run from anything," Corbett said. "I take decisions head-on. But I was not going to be a distraction to the school day or to the students. I was not going to engage in the theatrics of what the adults wanted to do."

The governor and acting Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq were scheduled to present awards to Central, Julia Masterman and Carver high schools for their high scores on the state's first-ever school-performance profiles.

News of the cancellation brought jeers and boos from protesters. Many criticized Corbett for not wanting to face the crowd, calling the move "cowardly."

"He has bailed on the children of Philadelphia once again," parent activist Helen Gym told the crowd. "God knows, for the last [three] years of his term, we have been here without our governor."

The Rev. Mark Tyler, pastor of Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church in Society Hill, compared Corbett to an absentee parent who abdicates responsibility, then shows up to take credit for the child's accomplishments.

"Just like one of those absentee parents, when the fire gets hot they leave again, and that's where our governor is right now," Tyler said.

Central scored 101.3 on the performance profile, the highest mark in the city and second-highest in the state - in spite of the district's sweeping layoffs, which included several staff members, counselors and secretaries at the special-admission school.

As a display of their dissatisfaction, students at Central had planned to greet Corbett with silence and then turn their backs to him, according to Afaq Mahmoud, a senior and one of the organizers of the protest. She said students were going to cheer when he left the stage.

"Gov. Corbett has turned his back on us too many times," Mahmoud said.

Protesters gathered near the busy intersection of Broad and Olney, not far from the school, and proceeded to march to Central, chanting, "We're gonna vote."

Corbett, whose approval ratings are dangerously low in an election year, is scheduled to deliver his annual budget address Feb. 4.

Sources said it will include up to $200 million in new school funding, though the details remain secret, the Inquirer reported.

- Staff writer Regina Medina contributed to this report


On Twitter: @ChroniclesofSol

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