Lack of money forces Bodine High and World Affairs Council to cut ties

Posted: March 20, 2014

PHILADELPHIA For 30 years, Bodine High School for International Affairs has been a Philadelphia School District gem, with a strong foreign-language program and a thriving partnership with the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia.

But last week, the World Affairs Council - which helped establish Bodine in 1981 - removed its staffer from the building, formally severing ties with the school it helped create.

At issue is a $70,000 annual contract the district signs with the organization. The money pays the salary of an employee who, working inside the school, organizes programs, mentors students, works with teachers to augment the curriculum, and takes on other tasks.

District staff recently informed Craig Snyder, president and chief executive of the council, that because of the ongoing fiscal crisis no contract would be signed and no money forthcoming.

"It's tragic. It's heartbreaking for us," Snyder said. "But there's no bad guy. They just don't have the money."

Though it had no signed contract for 2013-14, the council placed its staffer in the magnet school in September, hoping a deal would be reached. It would not have been the first time the school year started without a contract, Snyder said, but the paperwork had always come together in the past.

District officials apologized for what amounted to more than a half year of unpaid World Affairs Council service and told Snyder they hope to find the money in next year's budget to restore the partnership, he said. But the district has a $14 million shortfall for this school year, and is projecting a gap of at least $440 million for next school year.

Principal Deborah Jumpp said she was "extremely optimistic" that money would be found to restore the partnership next year.

She hailed the council as "a great partner with Bodine High School for over 31 years."

Bodine teachers say the loss of the World Affairs Council partnership stings, especially on top of a weakening of the school's language program. The school has cut its Italian and Chinese courses in recent years, and it lost more language teachers this year.

"We are not international anymore," said one teacher, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution. "If World Affairs isn't involved, kids will say, 'Why do I go to this school?' "

Jumpp said the school remained committed to offering students a robust world language program and will add more language teachers next year, when it welcomes its largest class of ninth graders.

Bodine is still a strong school, Jumpp and the unidentified teacher agreed. It won a prestigious U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon award in 2009, offers the rigorous International Baccalaureate program, and sends students to Ivy League universities nearly every year.

But some worry that the district's budget situation is eroding its quality.

The Northern Liberties school, with 500 students who travel from around the city, used to have 40 teachers, one staffer said. Now it has 23. Many extracurricular programs have been cut, and the ones that still operate do so only because teachers volunteer their time to run them.

"The school is in danger of not existing the way it currently does," said another teacher, who also asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution. "We were holding on by a thread as an international school, and now World Affairs is gone."

Jumpp said Bodine was still an international school.

The council was responsible for bringing luminaries such as Condoleezza Rice and Tony Blair to Bodine. It ran clubs and assemblies and recently took students to the White House as part of the official delegation welcoming French President Fran├žois Hollande to the United States.

It must abandon all the programs it had planned for the rest of the year, Snyder said, except one - a trip to Costa Rica that students had already paid for.

"At Bodine, students learn that if they're going to succeed, it's going to involve interaction with a much bigger world," Snyder said. "I think the council's been essential to bringing that added dimension to the school."

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