Phila. principals make plea for school safety, budget reform

Watch the report from Action News' Dann Cuellar.
March 27, 2014 8:27:24 PM PDT
Deeply troubled with what's going on at Philadelphia schools, a large group of principals came to City Hall late Thursday pleading for help to turn things around.

"We're running out of ideas and we need help with that," said Karen Thomas, Cook-Wissahickon Elementary School.

Principals commenting in the wake of a rash of violent incidents at schools.

Less than a week ago, a 63-year-old Bartram High School staffer, responsible for keeping students orderly between classes, was knocked unconscious and found lying on the floor.

A student posted the cellphone video online.

"It's just harsh, nobody deserves to be knocked out cold," said Antoinette Calimag, teacher.

On Wednesday, a fight forced school officials to lock down Bartram high. Six students were taken into custody.

On Tuesday, at Jay Cooke Elementary, the parents of a female student barged in and confronted her fellow school-mates.

The parents allegedly punched and slapped some of the other female students. In all, 10 children and two adults, including a school police officer, were injured.

"That is very disconcerting to us and we have to begin to explore and re-explore and re-examine all of our procedures for how we provide access to students," said Supt. Dr. William High, Philadelphia School District.

However principals say drastic budget cuts have also played a significant role in what is happening.

"The budgets that we operate under now make it very difficult to create those environments that are necessary," said Otis Hackney, South Philadelphia High School.

"And you do create a dangerous situation when you limit the number of adults in the building to monitor children," said Mary Dean, Promise Academy at West Philadelphia High School.

The consensus seems to be the same and concerns are high as word came that the district will finish the current year $29 million in the red

And the forecast is even more grim for next year.

Officials say that the district will need an additional $200 million dollars, just to maintain this year's skeletal status quo.

That degree of shortfall counts on $120 million in sales tax revenue that has yet to be approved by City Council.

None of this takes into account the $240 million that Supt. Hite says is necessary to implement his plan for reform.

"There is no time at this point. We have a budget delivered to us on Monday that is worse than last year," said Thomas.

"This is an emergency situation. We need funding and we need both the city and the state to pass legislation so that we can support the children of Philadelphia," said Jessica Brown, Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush.

Councilman Curtis Jones, who notes that principals took a 16 percent pay cut to that more money could go towards schools, says he stands with them.

"We're gonna do what we have to do, whatever it is, whatever way we have to do it, to make sure you don't have to come down here each and every year doing this," said Councilman Jones.

Principals want City Council members to do their part to fill the budget gap.

However are also asking the General Assembly to make permanent a 1 percent sales tax that would provide the $120 million for public education since that tax is set to expire soon.


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