School Chief Ackerman Defends District’s Budget Cuts, Convinces Few
Yesterday’s School Reform Commission meeting generated condescending responses from community members, who are upset at the school district’s mounting deficit coupled with a significant loss of its budget from state funding that may force the district to scrap 1,260 teachers, cut school programs and make classrooms more overcrowded.
A student from Masterman High School, for instance, said yesterday her English class changes rooms “every single day…students must chase teachers and other students to find where their classes are.” As the budget forces the school district to lay off teachers, an increase of classroom overcrowding will, no doubt, result.
The good news is that this budget mayhem is making School Chief Arlene Ackerman and her minions in the School Reform Commission look like the selfish asses they are.
Students, parents and community members (of course no teachers would speak up against the school district) blasted Akerman to her face at the meeting yesterday, telling her that “the school district needs to stop putting all the blame on Harrisburg and needs to start taking some accountability,” says William Browning from Action United. “I don’t want to imagine 2014. I’m having a hard enough time thinking about 2011.”
Student Shayla Johnson told Ackerman that spending “16 million on surveillance cameras that don’t do anything is a waste…we need more student support and services.”
While most of the SRC staff blankly sat while taking the punches from the public, Ackerman tried defending the school district’s actions after almost every speaker.
“With $631 million to cut, I say to you, what programs should we cut? …we are trying to listen, we are hearing you…but none of us want this. We have to make [cuts]. Across, the board, everyone is feeling the pain,” Akerman says.
Given that the truancy rate remains out of control (9,645 students remain truant on any given day); graduation rates, which stands at 58%, very modestly increased over the past four years (the lowest graduation rates, by the way, are 12% from Widener, 33% from South Philadelphia and 36% from Kensington Business); and Ackerman’s annual salary, which includes her $348,000-a-year contract, plus a $100,000 bonus this year and a $65,000 performance bonus she received last year is more than President Obama’s (which is $400,000), parents could begin migrating for charters instead of public schools, where schools don’t have to follow many of the district’s failing—or at least, misunderstood—guidelines.
In fact, charter school education is where the city is heading, says Council member Bill Green. “There’s a waiting list of 30,000 students for charter schools,” he says. “They have to start closing and consolidating [public] schools and really manage the decline of the school district, because charters are going to take over…and frankly, they do a much better job.”
City council will begin discussing the district’s budget May 24 at City Hall.