Nutter tours violence-plagued Bartram High

Posted: June 13, 2014

OVERBURDENED teachers leave their jobs midyear and are replaced by come-nd-go substitutes. The soccer team plays every game on the road because the home field is inadequate. Kids smoke weed in the bathrooms, fight in the hallways and disrupt classes they're not supposed to be in.

John Bartram High School, in Southwest Philly, has made headlines for brawls and skull-bashings in its hallways, but violence is just one of many issues its shrinking staff is up against.

Mayor Nutter heard those stories and many more yesterdaay, when he went to Bartram as part of his "listening tour" on the impact of the School District of Philadelphia's ongoing budget crisis.

Bartram, which has long had a reputation for violence, has been through a tumultuous year, with a rotating cast of principals and a string of assaults. In March, a district employee assigned to the school to maintain peace was knocked unconscious by a student, leading to a viral video of him lying facedown in a hallway.

The school has 97 employees for the roughly 1,100 students on its roster, a teacher told Nutter. Four years ago, before the budget cuts, it had 166 adults.

"It's essentially a death by a thousand cuts," Nutter said of the district's woes, which began when Gov. Corbett and the state General Assembly failed to replace federal stimulus funds that were padding the statewide education budget.

The mayor's final meeting at Bartram was with a handpicked group of committed students, many of them Air Force ROTC cadets. Stone-faced and polite, they described a "negative vibe" in the school and said they longed for better teachers, more help with college applications and a less unruly learning environment.

"Most people, they view Bartram as basically a hangout," junior Rashiek High said.

Senior Derek Clark summed up his feelings in a rhyme that Nutter asked him to repeat so he could write it down: "If the teacher's not dedicated, the students won't be educated."

Earlier in the day, Nutter met with faculty and staff members. They told him that they struggled to control their classrooms, that many parents don't care about their kids' schoolwork and that they don't have enough staff to enforce even basic disciplinary measures, like the dress code.

Nutter used the event to call on City Council and Harrisburg to take up pending school-funding measures.

"It is our responsibility as adults and elected officials to provide every possible resource we can," he said.

While Nutter was at Bartram, Council passed a bill that will extend a 1 percentage point increase in the local sales tax (to 8 percent overall) and send $120 million to the district next year. The tax hike was set to expire next month, but the state last year authorized the city to make it permanent.

However, few expect the Republican-controlled General Assembly to pass a $2-per-pack tax on cigarettes in the city. Council passed the tax 16-0 last year, but it needs state approval.

The district has said it needs an additional $216 million next year to avoid further cuts. The budget deadline is July 1.

On Twitter: @SeanWalshDN

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