Statement on the budget

 

June 24, 2008

Parents United statement on elimination of transpasses 

Parents United for Public Education appeals to City Council, the Mayor, the State Department of Education and SEPTA to address the $4.2 million shortfall in order to ensure that thousands of students in Philadelphia continue to receive transpasses.

The elimination of transpasses was one of the first concerns Parents
United flagged in the District's budget. We believe that transportation is a basic access to education issue. Any child who wants to go to school should be given every opportunity to do so. In a high poverty school district with one of the most expensive transit systems in the country, these transpasses are one of the first steps to improving attendance. In fact, District data has shown that across all grades students with transpasses have higher attendance than those without.

While we support the public forums on transportation, we believe they
should be just one element of public discussion on this issue. We
would like to have a public forum with SEPTA, the Governor's office,
and key state legislators, who last September held a major press
conference announcing this decision. We need to know what measures
they have taken to address the issue. We also request a forum with the
City and the Mayor's office. The City of Philadelphia has made
reducing the drop-out rate its number one priority. We believe it is
well within the purview of the City to help guarantee access to school
for its children.

This decision must not be based solely on parent opinion, nor on School District finances, but on a concerted effort by all parties to address this issue.

In terms of the survey, we disagree with the District's efforts to force parents to choose either an attendance or mileage option until all parties have been consulted and accountable to public concerns.

However, in regards to the survey we have grave reservations about the
attendance requirement in particular for the following reasons:

  • Transpasses are a means to improve attendance, not a reward
    for attendance;
  • Drop-outs and truant children trying to return to school are one of the target groups for the district and may not have the appropriate attendance records to receive transpasses;
  • District data has shown that transpasses have improved attendance among children in the same grade;
  • The requirement unfairly targets only students attending Philadelphia public schools and would not impact students in other schools. 

Opportunity for input 

The District is holding public hearings on transpass elimination tonight and tomorrow afternoon. Details below:

  • When: Tuesday, June 24, 5-7 p.m. and Wednesday, June 25, 1-3 p.m.;
  • Where: School District headquarters, 440 N. Broad Street, 2nd floor;
  • You do not need to register to speak.

April 23, 2008 

Parents raise concerns about District's budget process: Reduced class size not advancing, busing cut, parents in the dark 

Parents United for Public Education raised concerns today that the District has not invested enough in classrooms and that the budget process has left parents and community members in the dark about proposed changes in the $2 billion school budget. 

The citywide parents group, which focuses on budget issues, said they were upset that the teacher force is projected to decline next year. They also said a change in bussing will impact students districtwide and that immigrant parents continue to be shortchanged on interpretation services. 

Regarding class size, Parents United pointed to the elimination of 151 teachers, but said that since projected enrollment shows a decline of only 1,466 students, "the numbers don't match." In addition, they noted that two-thirds of the 151 teachers have nothing to do with enrollment and are listed as school support. Overall, Parents United said the District numbers show a decline of at least 25 teachers overall. They also said that the District, in responding to their concerns, has said it will adjust enrollment figures. 

"Everyone from the Mayor to the School Reform Commission itself to parents and teachers has called reduced class size a priority, so why are we cutting teachers?" said Aissia Richardson, a parent at Girard Academic Music Program (GAMP). 

"We want to praise the District for trying to reduce class size in some areas, but if we cut teachers elsewhere, then it's a wash overall," said Helen Gym from Parents United. 

Gym said Parents United has been requesting a class size report from the District for several months but has not yet received it. 

In addition, the parents' group said they were upset about the District's plan to change the qualifying distance for transpasses from 1.5 miles to 2 miles, saying this information has never been shared with parents. Richardson noted that the cost of losing bus service is $720 a year per student on public transportation with no transfers. 

"I thought the idea was to keep our middle and high students in school," Richardson said. "Why is this deficit being financed on our backs?"

Mexican parents with JUNTOS are expected to testify about a lack of translation services. 

"I would like to be able to go tell the teacher that my daughter had been attacked on various occasions by her classmates and for lack of interpretation I have held myself back," said Southwark parent Anasticia Lorenzo . "I feel like we are ignored and our rights trampled." 

Parents United said one of its primary concerns is the lack of information and public dialogue about the District's budget. They said that at this point last year, the District had provided a public forum on the District's financial plans as well as a projected cut list. 

"The budget says that we're supposed to expect a decline in $5 million from reallocated academic programs, another $5.3 million in operations cuts 'to be determined' and that still only gets us to the point where we're looking at almost $40 million in cuts that have to be made elsewhere," said Gerald Wright, a parent at JS Jenks. "What is that supposed to mean for us? We're trying to get technology at our school but we can't even begin to plan for that when we don't know what the District says are its priorities and what's supposed to get cut." 

"We've got less than a month before they pass the budget," continued Wright. "We have to talk about this some more." 

Parents say they plan to talk about their concerns at tonight's District hearings, including issues such as the need for bilingual counseling assistants for immigrant populations, the lack of money for high school reform, and why contracts for external providers have stayed the same.

Parents United also noted that EMOs are scheduled to receive more than $400,000 over and above their management fees, including a $200,000 bonus and overtime payments.

Click here to download a detailed breakdown of Parents United's concerns regarding the School District's budget. (PDF)

April 16, 2008

Read Parents United's statement on the City's responsibility to develop a local revenue-boosting strategy for the schools in its Five Year Plan. (PDF).

December 20, 2007

Parents win Parking Authority $$ for schools

How do you get from here:

  • "We can't do anything today." - PPA Board Chair Joe Ashdale, October 23.

To here?

  • "I see it [the Parking Authority's money for City/schools] continuing to go up under the Nutter administration, and you can quote me on that in big, bold letters." - PPA Executive Director Vince Fenerty, December 17, after announcing the Parking Authority will give $1.25 million to the schools for the first time in years.

Well, it came from parents. Public school parents who decided this
past summer to make this a campaign, not only to get money for our
City and Schools but to put public education and the needs of our
schools in the lap of every single agency and civic and political
official in the City. In the meantime, state reps, Harrisburg and the
Governor took notice.

The people who did this, for the most part, weren't paid; in fact most
of us paid to do it. We hired babysitters, took off of work, ran
around on public transportation, and, of course, paid plenty of
parking fees. We spoke with passion about the needs of our schools,
about our libraries and vocational schools, about class sizes and
public decency. We wrote letters to the editor, contacted our state
reps and council people, and even crashed a Harrisburg Appropriations
Committee meeting.

It didn't hurt to have parents with financial experience like Steve
Bell and Mary Jo Kannon who noticed the PPA's hoarding of $46 million
in cash reserves. They spent hours reviewing and analyzing years of
Parking Authority audits that had been largely overlooked by the City
Controller and the School District. It was important to have an
engaged media investigating every angle of the Parking Authority's
political and financial connections.

We had allies in the struggle. JUNTOS, TaxiWorkers Alliance and the
Media Mobilizing Project supported our calls for transparency and
accountability. Advocate groups and education groups signed letters of
appeal and joined us at midday PPA board meetings.

It was easy to see the news and think that getting from here to there
was the work of a few power brokers, but it was a far cry from that.
This was, and should be celebrated as a people's movement and the
rising of parents and citizens who, despite the difficulties of our
public schools, still believe in and demand a quality education for
all children.

So on behalf of Parents United for Public Education, thank you for
your support in this struggle, for your participation, and for your
phone calls, letters, attendance and passion. Let's be encouraged that
change doesn't always come from the top down. Sometimes the most
powerful and meaningful change is from the bottom up.

We leave you with a few memorable quotes, and words from the Governor this week as he signed off on the red light camera bill:

  • "When are the children of Philadelphia going to stop being taken for granted? We are only asking for what is rightfully theirs." - Greg Wade, Philadelphia Home and School Council, October 22.
  • "The city's elected leaders, especially our state representatives, need to stand with the parents and school children and oversee wasteful spending at the Parking Authority." - Anne LaBrum, Meredith parent, Daily News letter, November 2.
  • "If it weren't criminal, it'd be comical," - Rev. Paul Weeks, JS Jenks School, in a meeting with the Inquirer editorial board, November 2007.
  • "It's a beautiful patronage haven. It's wonderful to be able to pay your friends  . . and punish your enemies. But I come to speak for the least of us – our children." - Rev. Leroi Simmons, Germantown Clergy Initiative, November 26.
  • "If you don't want to work with us, we're going to keep working on
    you." - Gerald Wright, JS Jenks parent, November 26.
  • "It's a reason why people - not only in Philadelphia but in many other parts - are just sick and tired of the state taking our schools and not taking responsibility for them, and taking over an entity like the Parking Authority and just letting it run amok with waste and patronage and greed." - Helen Gym, Masterman parent, December 12.
  • "We'll take this victory, but we want to be here for the check-signing to make sure it really happens. And we'll never stop fighting for our children." - Aissia Richardson, GAMP parent, December 17 following the announcement of a victory.
Earlier this month, many of us cried foul when a last minute ambush
spoiled an effort by Rep. Dwight Evans to use the red light camera bill to fund Philadelphia public schools. Governor Rendell used the bill signing to speak out on behalf of funding needs for the Philly schools. Read more here.

October 31, 2007 

Parents renew call for Parking Authority to fund schools; says recent comments are "shameful" and "evasive" 

Parents United for Public Education said the Philadelphia Parking
Authority was acting in a "shameful" and "evasive" manner in its recent trip to Harrisburg.

The Philadelphia Daily News reported this week that Parking Authority
officials were handing out "fact sheets" showing the number of School
District employees earning more than $100,000.  The number was in
reference to recent media investigations showing a skyrocketing
payroll at the Parking Authority, which has doubled its jobs and pays
at least 20 employees more than $100,000.

Parents United, along with other parent groups, has been leading a call for the Parking Authority to keep its 2004 promise to turn over $20 million to the public schools. Since a first check for $4 million was handed over in 2004, the Parking Authority hasn't sent a dollar to the public schools.

Parents United has called on the Parking Authority to make its November 26th board meeting a check signing ceremony for the district, to announce a plan to turn over the rest of the $20 million owed to the schools, and to work with parents to determine a plan for future
disbursement of dollars to the public schools. The group is demanding
that the District also work with parents to prioritize funding for
schools into the classroom.

"It's shameful," said Aissia Richardson, a member of Parents United.
"Instead of saying that they can work this out and figure out a solution, they're trying to avoid the issue. They need to take responsibility for what they said they would do, not play an evasive political game."

Helen Gym, a member of Parents United, said that parent groups are
working for accountability in the School District, pointing out that there is oversight from the School Reform Commission, the City Controllers Office, the State Budget Secretary, and independent parent groups.

"People are combing through the District's books, but at some level
it's ridiculous and wrong for the Parking Authority to suggest that
there's all this fat in our schools," Gym said. "We've got the highest
class sizes in the Commonwealth, we've seen hundreds of teachers cut,
no art and music, and the Parking Authority's sitting there counting
the ways they can add more jobs to their payroll instead of making
good on their promise to kids."

"We're tired of excuses and blame," Gym said. "We're waiting for someone to say we can make this work."

Richardson also said the Parking Authority's attempts to decry salaries, which included all principals salaries, ignored long-standing concerns about retention of quality teachers and educators.

"We're losing personnel from our schools to higher paying suburbs just
a few miles away," Richardson said. "It just goes to show you how totally clueless they are about the issues and struggles facing our schools."

At a Tuesday night voter forum at the African American United Fund
(which was co-sponsored by Parents United for Public Education),
mayoral hopeful Al Taubenberger, who is a Parking Authority board
member, was asked to respond why the Parking Authority wasn't turning over its promised dollars to the public schools. In a terse voice,
Taubenberger said that the current Mayor and Governor had put a law
into place blocking the Parking Authority from giving 100 percent of
its money to the public schools, as it had originally desired.

But when questioned why his board pays its executive director more
than the governor, Taubenberger responded that his board wasn't
unusual. A number of boards, like Philadelphia Gas Works, pay their
top executives far more than the governor.

"That doesn't make it right," one audience member muttered.

"It was a very unsatisfactory answer from someone who wants to run our
city and take charge of our schools," said Gym, who attended the forum. "If you can't run the Parking Authority right, then what makes us think you can run the city properly?"

 

September 18, 2007

Parents to Parking Authority: Keep your promise to our schools

On September 18, the Philadelphia Daily News and Metro Philadelphia noted that the Philadelphia Parking Authority had reached an agreement to sell a property at 20th & Sansom Streets for approximately $36.7 million. The Parking Authority has made a commitment to deliver $20 million to the Philadelphia public schools over a five year period since 2005. Their contribution to date? 

$0.00 

Parents United for Public Education today issued a call for the Philadelphia Parking Authority to use proceeds from its sale of the Sansom Street property to fulfill its commitment to the public schools. In a letter issued today to PPA Executive Director Vincent Fenerty, Parents United urged PPA to address immediate financial needs in the District, saying it must fulfill "a long overdue promise" to the schoolchildren of the city. 

In 2005 the Philadelphia Parking Authority made a publicly stated commitment to give $20 million to the Philadelphia public schools over five years. Since 2004, however, PPA has not given a single dollar to the schools. 

"All we expect is that the Parking Authority will simply do what it said publicly it was going to do," said Gerald Wright of Parents United for Public Education and a parent at J.S. Jenks Elementary School. "To date, it hasn't, but now, we don't see how they can say they don't have the money." 

Parents United calls for the Parking Authority to not just allot funds for this year but to make up for the past three years when it did not contribute any funds to the schools. 

"That would make it even in our book," Wright said. "Not generous, but even." 

Parents point out that even a standard allotment of funds would stop an anticipated loss of 30 teachers expected this month. Press reports have documented dramatic overcrowding at some schools, while numerous other schools report a lack of supplies and funds for art and music programs, librarians, classroom assistants, NTA's and other support personnel. 

"The situation is urgent," said Aissia Richardson, a parent at Girard Academic Music Program. "PPA has a responsibility more than ever at this time to address the fiscal needs of this District." 

We will need to follow up with members of City Council and, ideally, State Sen. Vince Fumo as well as State Sen. John Perzel. Parents United will be contacting legislators for meetings to address this situation. If you are interested or have contacts with local politicians, we could use your help. Please contact Aissia Richardson at 215-236-2100 to let us know. 

Read the full text of Parents United's letter to the Parking Authority here. (PDF)

September 26, 2007

District ends Aramark deal

Back in August, Parents United began raising vocal concerns about a $4 million line item in the District's late summer deficit reduction plan tagged for Aramark. Today, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the District has decided to terminate the ARA contract rather than cede to ARA's demands for a 20% increase in its $18.5 million food service contract. Parents United had argued that the District could not guarantee profit margins for corporate outfits at the expense of students. For example, the $4 million for ARA exceeded the amount it would cost to level teachers at the end of this month. 

Parents United would like to thank CEO Tom Brady and other top officials at the District and SRC who said that kids would stand before contracts. Despite the termination of the ARA contract, we recognize that quality food service remains a challenge in the District and requires the support of parents and community members to build quality food programs that respect the health of our children.

September 11, 2007 

Parents United for Public Education celebrates the announcement by the
Governor and Mayor
regarding the additional revenues to eradicate the
District's deficit. We believe that this announcement shows how the
change in leadership at the School Reform Commission marks the first
time since the state takeover that a truly collaborative partnership
exists among the State, City and District to move funding and
priorities back to the children of the public schools.

At the same time, there is a difference between saying that a deficit
is reduced on paper and saying that classrooms have been protected.
The dust has not yet settled on cuts that have been made in the
past year. We encourage the City and District to use this time to
study carefully whether certain cuts to schools, classrooms, or
critical support services went too far.

It is disingenuous to say that schools were insulated from budget cuts
this year. At Bache Martin Elementary, parents yesterday reported 41
students in one fifth grade class and a split in the primary grades.
Morrison Elementary reported that two classrooms lacked teachers.
Almost every school in this city has been impacted by the deficit,
whether there are fewer teachers, fewer supplies, loss of classroom
assistants and support personnel, or the reduction of full-time
personnel to part-time. We cannot simply look at our schools from one
budget cycle to the next; rather, we need to understand that schools
have lost funding and support year after year.

Now that the immediate financial crisis has been removed, we ask that the District and SRC do the following:

  • Re-examine this year's classroom cuts such as the loss of as many as 15 librarians, the 180 teacher losses including a proposed leveling plan later this month, and the 5% cut to schools' discretionary spending;
  • Account for and study the classroom-based impact of budget cuts over the past 3 years – what personnel have schools lost, what programs were eliminated that are needed?;
  • Use any new dollars (such as the City's proposal to collect
    delinquent tax revenues) to stabilize research-proven reform efforts such as speeding up the class size initiative and bringing to scale successful drop-out prevention programs; hold off on new programs until priorities have been established;
  • Establish a baseline guarantee for all schools, regardless of size, of the minimum acceptable personnel and programs for a school to run efficiently and successfully.
August 8, 2007

Statement on the fiscal year 2008 budget deficit 

Parents United for Public Education, Philadelphia Home & School Council, Eastern Philadelphia Organizing Project, and JUNTOS are deeply concerned about the priorities and decision-making process for the closure of an $80 million deficit in the district’s FY08 budget.

As some of the most active parents groups around budget issues, we find common ground with each other on the following issues:

  • that there must be transparency and an engaged and open process in any decision-making, especially about budget issues which impact our schools;
  • that diverse and broad groups of parents must be involved and at the table in that decision-making;
  • that protecting schools and children in a budget deficit situation must be the top priority for our school district.

Over the past year, the District has heard organized and widespread calls for parent involvement from all areas of the city, including parents and education and community groups concerned about special needs, bilingual children and English language learners. In any situation regarding budgets, particularly when tens of millions of dollars are at stake, the public must have significant input. In addition, as the District lauds its recent PSSA test scores, it is imperative that it demonstrate a financial commitment to academic excellence and invest in teachers, programs and resources that work and enrich and benefit the classroom.

Yet, despite numerous calls for the School Reform Commission to remain accountable to the public, the SRC insists upon making critical decisions in the middle of a weekday afternoon, limiting public input to three minutes, and remaining at arm’s length of parents.

We ask the following:

  • Any decision on the deficit reduction plan must follow a clear and open process for substantially including the voices of parents, schools, and community in the decision-making and review of the plan.
  • The plan must insure that there are no cuts to schools, restoring dollars and school-based staff to FY06 levels and restoring class size reduction efforts.
  • The SRC must make explicit the process and criteria for determining budget cuts.
  • Any budget cut plan must include an impact study on classrooms and children.
  • Parents must be allowed an opportunity for question and answer sessions at the School Reform Commission meetings.
  • SRC meeting times must be changed to accommodate the needs of working parents.
  • Any plan must be posted online along with the FY08 budget and answers to questions posed to the District on June 27.

We call upon the Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, City Council and the Mayor's office to intervene to ensure that the FY08 budget has placed the needs of students first and not political, corporate or private interests. We expect that any action on the 15th will respect the request of the parents of this District. Please contact our representatives below with any questions.
 
Sincerely,
 
Helen Gym/Aissia Richardson/Gerald Wright
Parents United for Public Education

Greg Wade
Philadelphia Home & School Council

Dolores Shaw
Eastern Philadelphia Organizing Project

Peter Bloom/Irma Zamora
JUNTOS

More statements

Statement on the EMO decision (6/19/08)

Statement on contract negotiations with the new CEO (2/27/08)

Statement on GCA requirements (1/15/08) 

Statement on the appointment of Heidi Ramirez to the SRC (11/5/07) 

Statement on vote of No Confidence (5/29/07)