By Ryan Schumm
The lead singer is new this year, but the back-up band is familiar. The stage is identical, and the songs are mostly covers.
At the recent budget concert, Superintendent William Hite performed the greatest hits of Thomas Knudson, Arlene Ackerman, and countless other Philadelphia School District (PSD) headliners. The title track of the latest PSD album, "Catastrophic," borrows the tune of Knudson's classic 2012 hit, "Dire." And no doubt fans immediately recognized the refrain from "Unprecedented," the 2011 ballad from budget guy Michael Masch.
The broken records that are spun each spring at the PSD budget concert contain two familiar sounds: a political ploy to raise revenue and the consequence of the status quo. The political game is required because of the way the district is funded. They are forced to overplay their superlative-laden hits. If they didn't, nobody would listen and City Council might not pay the bail. This dynamic is understandable. You need to do it to sell records.
The other sound is stale, redundant, and looping. It is the sound of the status quo. The district is in the same position every spring and doesn't seem to be able to write new material. But if the state and city keep buying the same old PSD tickets, T-shirts, and albums, why would the district ever produce new and creative material?
The recent school closures, although 10 years too late, are a step in the right direction. The School Reform Commission and Hite seem to be generating responsible change and changing their tune. These movements will help to correct the district's fiscal position over the next decade. The public will not accept this style of music right away, but time will prove it to be wise.
To take the music to the next level, the SRC needs to allow new voices to be heard on the main stage. There is a lot of educational talent in the city, but the sweetest songs are coming from places other than the PSD house band.
Hite has the right idea, with the Philly cyber band opening for him on the fall tour. And the charter school crescendo can no longer be stifled. Alternative music for alternative audiences, both students and parents, is being heard at the city's underground schools, not at the PSD arena venues. Here's hoping Hite, the SRC, and the public are willing to lend an ear.