DN Editorial: Obstacle courses

Posted: August 19, 2014

ANOTHER WEEK, another crisis at the Philadelphia School District.

Last week, it was over whether the school year will begin on time.

Superintendent William Hite wisely decided it would, despite the fact that the district still is $81 million short of the money it needs to operate all year.

Still, Hite had to slash another $31 million from the budget. When they open on September 8, schools will be more dangerous and dirty - due to the cuts in the budgets for police officers and maintenance. Programs for drop-outs will be cut back. Transportation aid for high school students curtailed.

A thousand cuts large and small have been inflicted over the last four years due to deep reductions in state and federal support.

The relentlessness of these cuts raises one question for all of us: If you had a child about to enter school, could you, in good conscience, send him or her to a public school in Philadelphia? And if the answer is no, how can we expect any parent to send a child to the same system?

Of course, there are oases of order and stability in the district where learning happens every day. But the district faces two increasingly insurmountable problems; one old and one new.

The old problem is a pattern of poor academic performance overall, mingled with periodic outbreaks of deceit, with widespread cheating on achievement tests and finagling with the statistics on school violence designed to camouflage failure.

The new problem is the systematic retreat from offering adequate resources to allow teachers and principals to do their jobs. The district is like an old house that has been stripped of everything that made it livable - most of the furniture, all of the silverware, the dining-room chandelier. Not much is left.

Under a best-case scenario - if the Legislature approves the $2-a-pack cigarette tax - this bleak existence will continue. If the tax gets defeated, the stripping of what remains will commence, with more layoffs, bigger classes, fewer basic services.

We aren't educating children so such as warehousing them.

What we may be witnessing is not a temporary political or financial crisis, but the demise of public education as we know it. The exodus of parents and children surely will continue, perhaps even accelerate. The district will be a district in name only. What it will be is an enclave for the unlucky few who could not escape.

Standing against this tide is Superintendent Hite.

Credible, smart and sincere, Hite has led the fight to preserve public education, not by clinging to the old habits and ways, but by demanding change so that it is focused on and dedicated to the education of children.

He has found it hard to get people to pay attention to him. Faced with uncaring politicians and set-in-their-ways unions, a local elite who abandoned the schools long ago and Philadelphia's ingrained resistance to change, it's surprising he hasn't despaired - and left town.

Yet, he hasn't given up. In the coming weeks, Hite will have to do battle with the array of forces who believe their self-interests or political agendas should come first.

Make no mistake: William Hite sincerely believes the children should come first and he continues to fight on their behalf. He realizes - and so should we - that more is at stake than the future of the public schools. The future of the city is, too.

He deserves our prayers. More than that, he deserves our wholehearted support.

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