By cutting funding for its disciplinary school system, the Philadelphia School District will jeopardize the safety of staff and students in its schools, warned the state official who monitors school violence and helps the victims.
"Any reduction in the number of violent students removed to a more appropriate setting seriously endangers the safety of our children and staff," Jack Stollsteimer, the safe schools advocate, told the School Reform Commission at its meeting yesterday.
"We only need ask Frank Burd or Ed Klein what occurs when the district fails to remove violent students from our schools."
Burd, a Germantown High teacher, suffered a broken neck in an attack by two students, and Klein, a West Philadelphia High teacher, got a broken jaw. Both attacks occurred last school year.
Stollsteimer urged the district not to go forward with its planned cut of $8 million from its $40 million disciplinary schools' budget.
The proposed cut, which comes after the state legislature reduced funds for the district's alternative schools by $8 million, is one of several planned to help close a deficit.
Interim chief executive officer Tom Brady said the district would consider Stollsteimer's comments and work with him. He said he wasn't sure how much of a reduction in seats at the disciplinary schools would occur if the cut was made.
Stollsteimer also criticized the district's disciplinary system and said cuts to the program will exacerbate delays and backlogs.
"Frankly, it just doesn't work," he said of the system.
Brady said: "Statements like that aren't particularly helpful in trying to fix particular parts of the program."
New commission chairwoman Sandra Dungee Glenn said the district needed "a full array of options for students being disruptive in the schools. It's not one size fits all. In light of budget constraints, we have to look at how we best deliver that."
Some say fewer disciplinary school slots may be good.
"Philadelphia currently has the largest disciplinary alternative school system in the nation. That our schools nevertheless continue to report large numbers of serious incidents despite moving record numbers of disruptive students into disciplinary slots should be an indication of that system's lack of effectiveness and thus the need to implement a different approach," said Sheila Simmons, of Philadelphia Citizens for Children and Youth.
Also yesterday, city resident and former district parent Harry Fiegel criticized the commission for awarding $135,000 in severance pay and benefits to former chief financial officer Folasade Olanipekun-Lewis. The Inquirer reported last month that outgoing chairman James Nevels brokered the deal without the knowledge of the SRC. Olanipekun-Lewis left as the district was trying to close the deficit, which first emerged last fall.
"She should have been fired - not rewarded," Feigel said.
Feigel called on the commission to adopt a policy to restrict severance pay "and never again play Santa Claus with taxpayer dollars."
Both Dungee Glenn and Nevels declined to comment.
Reached by telephone last night, Olanipekun-Lewis said she was "not interested in commenting."
Dungee Glenn, also yesterday, said it was too soon to decide whether the district should create a managing director's job to oversee finances and operations. Gov. Rendell on Tuesday said he liked the managing director model and acknowledged that his budget secretary, Michael Masch, could do the job.
"I have an open mind about it," Dungee Glenn said.
Of Masch, a former school reform commissioner and school board member, she said: "I personally would see him as someone who would be a great asset to the district. But that's a long way from saying what would happen with him in the future."
Also at the meeting, parent Audrey Pruitt Barbee complained that the Philadelphia Academy Charter High School has prohibited her son, Bobby, a senior, from having a mustache even though he has a skin condition that prevents him from shaving.
"My son is in his last year of school and should not have to find another school to attend because he has a skin condition that doesn't permit him to shave," she said.
Brady asked the district's charter school office to look into the issue.
Officials at the school in the Northeast could not be reached for comment. Facial hair and sideburns are prohibited in the "grooming" portion of the school's dress code.
Dungee Glenn noted that charter schools have a right to set their own rules, but setting such a rule for district schools was not on her list.
"I think we have a lot more pressing issues before we get to facial hair," she said.
The Philadelphia School Reform Commission has set a series of public meetings so citizens can have a say in what the district needs in a new chief executive officer.
The district aims to have a CEO to replace Paul Vallas by the end of the year.
The following meetings are open to the public:
Sept. 18, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., Home and School Council Meeting, Dave & Buster's, Franklin Mills Circle.
Sept. 20, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., South Philadelphia High School, 2101 S. Broad St.
Sept. 24, 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m., School District of Philadelphia, 440 N. Broad St.; 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., Bartram High School, 2401 67th St.
Sept. 25, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., Lincoln High School, 3201 Ryan Ave.
Sept. 26, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., Overbrook High School, 5898 Lancaster Ave.
Oct. 1, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., Martin Luther King High School, 6100 Stenton Ave.
Oct. 2, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., Kensington High School, 2501 East Cumberland St.
Oct. 3, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., Edison High School, 151 W. Luzerne St.
Oct. 4, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., Roxborough High School, 6498 Ridge Ave.
Oct. 6, 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., Simon Gratz High School, 1798 W. Hunting Park Ave. EndText