Parents anxiously await decision on Philly schools

Posted: August 15, 2014

WITH THE summer winding down, Erika Ford's daughter, Jordin, is excited about her first day of kindergarten - or "big kids' school," as she calls it.

"It's like something that she's been waiting for, leading up to, looking forward to," said Ford, of Nicetown.

Unfortunately, Ford and thousands of other parents in the Philadelphia School District aren't sure exactly when that first day will be - or what conditions to expect - due to the district's budget woes.

Superintendent William Hite is expected to announce a plan today to deal with an $81 million deficit, which could include massive layoffs, moving back the scheduled Sept. 8 opening or shortening the school year.

All of those options are a bit frightening for Ford, a preschool teacher, whose daughter will attend Edward T. Steel School, which parents voted to keep district-run last spring.

"It's really upsetting to know that this important time in my daughter's life is in question. It's being held in the balance because of the disarray that the school district is in right now," she said.

Gretchen Elise Walker, a University City resident, has a daughter getting ready to enter kindergarten at Powel Elementary in Mantua. She is concerned that schools may not be ready to handle kids when they do open.

"I know that Powel has already had nine staff cuts over the last three years since [Gov.] Corbett came into office, and I just don't know what's going to happen this fall for my daughter and all these incoming kids if there's more layoffs and budget cuts," she said. Class sizes "are already at the max."

The district is hoping state lawmakers pass a $2-per-pack cigarette tax, which could generate $40 million to $50 million this year to help maintain the status quo. Elected officials in Harrisburg have assured the district they will keep pushing for the tax, but there is no guarantee.

Corbett announced last week that the state would advance the district $265 million, but that does not represent any new or additional money, leaving schools in limbo.

Both Ford and Walker said they are unsure what they will do if schools don't open as scheduled. They both applied to charter schools, but struck out in the admissions lottery.

"I'm keeping the faith that the pieces will fall into place and that the people in decision-making [positions] will step up and support Philadelphia kids," Walker said. "I'm just really hoping for that. I do not have a Plan B."

As the director of an arts program for city schools, Walker sees firsthand the impact of fewer resources on children. She blames elected officials for not doing more to stabilize the city's public education system.

"Parents are united in wanting to fund the schools," she said, "and we're just helpless in the face of a lack of state leadership."

On Twitter: @ChroniclesofSol

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