'Dear America, We Give Our Schools Third-World Level Resources...With Love, Philadelphia XOXO'
Philly spends millions to lure people here, but what many outsiders are learning from stories like a major piece in today's New York Times is that we won't pay to educate our kids or support their teachers. And those moral failings have consequences.
Unfortunately, when you sell Philly to the outside world, you a) gotta take the bad with the good and b) remember that, especially in this corner of the globe, no other media outlet has more influence than The New York Times. And when readers picked up (or clicked on) the Times this morning, they saw kids running across cracked asphalt on a faded school yard. In Philadelphia.
As they say in those omnipresent ads....XOXO?
Here's what what folks who might want to move to Philadelphia someday and who might want to raise a family here learned from the article:
PHILADELPHIA — Money is so short at Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences, a public middle school here, that a nurse works only three afternoons a week, leaving the principal to oversee the daily medication of 10 children, including a diabetic who needs insulin shots. On the third floor filled with 200 seventh and eighth graders, one of two restrooms remains locked because there are not enough hall monitors. And in a sixth-grade math class of 33 students with only 11 textbooks to go around, the teacher rations paper used to print out homework equations.
"When you are given a loaf of bread, you have to make it last as long as you can," said Michael Adelson, the math teacher. Feltonville serves 541 students, close to 80 percent of whom come from low-income families.
Such is the state of austerity across Philadelphia, where this fall, the schools almost did not open on time, and the district has eliminated 5,000 staff positions and closed 31 schools over the last two years. Feltonville alone has lost 15 teachers, two assistant principals, two guidance counselors, an office secretary, three campus police officers, 10 aides who supervised the cafeteria and hallways, and an operations officer, who oversaw most of the school's day-to-day logistics.
Of course, this news is hardly surprising here in Philadelphia -- we've watched the schools crisis fester and then metastasize for years. But we get so caught up in the day-to-day skirmishes that I think sometimes we forget what this looks like to the outside world -- and how this reflects on our city, and the moral choices that our leaders have -- or haven't -- made. And it's not a new thing, frankly. In the late 1990s when I covered city politics for the Daily News, I watched widely hailed then-Mayor Ed Rendell slobber over the guy who founded House of Blues to beg him to locate a few jobs to Center City, even as public education -- the actual key to a sound economy -- was crashing and burning on his watch.
Meanwhile, the latest day-to-day skirmish here in Philadelphia to develop over the last 24 hours is one of the more outrageous ones I've seen. In a story first reported by the alternative Philly Declaration and advanced today by the Daily News' Regina Medina, Pennsylvania's conservative "think"-tank, the Commonwealth Foundation, hired a "guerrilla marketing firm" to pay people to show up and counter a big protest tomorrow and show their support for the PFT -- and get paid from $40 t0 $120! Because I guess when your "tank" can't change the way that people "think," there's always cold cash.
The Commonwealth Foundation has also launched a website attacking the teachers' union, because...you know, freedom. And apparently the road to freedom begins with freezing the salary of middle-class schoolteachers and then cutting their take-home pay to fund their benefits, so they can spend less in local stores, leading to more pay cuts and layoffs, and so on and so forth. The downward spiral is what we've come to call free-market economics. It's just not a moral universe that I want any part of.