Almost a decade ago, my oldest began Philly public kindergarten in the spirit of “Let’s see if it works.” Good news, it has delivered- for her. But, my middle guy and my youngest daughter must deal with the post-Hurricane Arlene landscape. Hurricane Arlene has blown through the resources from the hard-earned 2008 funding formula, wrecked our school district’s fragile credibility in Harrisburg and decimated much of Philadelphia’s faith in its own public schools. We can and will rebuild. Keep reading!
Like any historic hurricane, this one had some perfect conditions. In 2008, when Ackerman arrived, Gov. Rendell had just signed a rational funding formula which accounted for high-concentrations of poverty and special needs in order to arrive at a per pupil amount for an adequate education. State Republicans decried this as Rendell’s giveaway to Philly schools. In fact, it was huge help to many PA communities. So we have, Perfect Condition #1: These new state resources allowed Ackerman to invest in Promise Academies and create many schools with the resources to overcome the trauma, depression, and academic deficiencies that often accompany poverty. I supported that fine decision in 2008. I have taught in such schools and know the injustices of inadequate funding in a district with 76% of children in poverty. However, along comes Perfect Condition #2:Wall St greed caused a global meltdown. Federal stimulus packages pumped money into our state economies to cover essential expenses such as school funding. Governor Rendell maintained his committment to the public education funding formula with federal stimulus dollars. Hurricane Arlene failed to recognize the changing economic winds. She used TEMPORARY stimulus dollars to hire all manner of PERMANENT people and opened new Promsie Academies.
Which brings us to Perfect Condition #3: Governor Corbett & Friends win elections in 2010. Anyone that reads the papers (let alone has an entire PR and Communications staff) realized Philly was in for some rough rides. The PA GOP took over the ENTIRE General Assembly. They are primarily HOSTILE to all things Philly. Hurricane Arlene and her unwillingness to read, see, plan and act according to the political landscape in strategic ways has cost ALL of the “babies” dearly this September. When stimulus dollars ran out, the Great Recession remained. When a mild recovery arrived in late July, the revenues were most certainly NOT coming to Philadelphia public schools in large part because Hurricane Arlene made it easy for GOP Harrisburg to mock and cut Philly schools. The successive mishaps: South Philly HS, Hope Moffett, the spending on chauffers, PR staff, “galvanizing” with full-day K cuts, “I dare you” to elected leaders. Hurricanes are unaware of their impact, ignorant of history or strategic vision. Hurricanes just move wrecklessly and narrowly sucking up media air and moisture, destroying all things with 100 mile idiot wind as her 900am WURD interview yesterday clearly indicates. Best quote from the interview, “I never understood the numbers”. Yes, we know, as we deal with horrific &665M damage to our schools this September. Also fueling Hurricane Arlene was a negligent School Reform Commission- like weathermen refusing to check radar. When the Mayor tried to marginalize Hurricane Arlene, she simply sought more media hot air and moisture, embarassing our city and Mayor further. Yet, Hurricane Arlene will leave town with far more than a million dollars in damage behind her.
We Philadelphians remain to re-build and reclaim our schools. It needs to begin with the resignation of the ENTIRE SRC. In their place, locally elected, paid (so they do the job) school board members. One elected school board member for each re-drawn City Council member. No need for “experts” – but experience with public education as a teacher or parent is good and an awareness of the political landscape is a must. Campaign donations should be transparent and limited to $5,000 per donor. NO PAC or union monies allowed. We MUST rebuild our damaged public schools ourselves from the grassroots up with School Advisory Councils and the people that know their own communities and schools best. This will require public resources. Therefore, we must ORGANIZE NOW to have avoice in hiring the next Superintendent. We must ORGANIZE NOW to elect pro public education Council members. We must ORGANIZE NOW to elect a pro-public education mayor and governor. More locally, we must place as many pro public education committee people inside the Philly political machine as possible in the 2014 primaries. It is easy and fun when you have the Committee of Seventy. In the meantime, invite your committee person to your school and build good relationships with your ward leader. It makes a difference in how our local elected leaders respond to what is actually happening in our schools. These local ward and committee people could be instrumental in electing the best school board members from their Council districts. We must begin creating an organized, hyper-local network of eyes, ears, access and accountability for ALL from principals, to Council, Mayor and Governor. Is this easy? No, but cleaning up after a hurricane is never easy.