Protesters rally, SRC approves $2.5B budget

School Reform Commission meeting on Thursday, May 31, 2012. (Kenneth Moton / Facebook)

May 31, 2012 8:52:17 PM PDT
Hundreds of protesters in Philadelphia say the city's school system can't afford any more cuts.

At a raucous school board meeting Thursday, demonstrators chanted and displayed signs expressing "no confidence" in next year's proposed budget. But the School Reform Commission, which oversees the district, voted to approve the $2.5 billion spending plan anyway. .

It was one of the largest, most passionate group of protesters the School Reform Commission has faced since the budget process began; a meeting filled with chants, interruptions and verbal disapproval.

"I'm absolutely disgusted by everything that's happening, so I would really, really reconsider all the ridiculous stuff that they're doing," said Mary Kate Mela.

Officials say the budget preserves core academic programs in tough economic times. They contend it's the first step in a five-year plan to make the district fiscally sustainable.

But protesters say the budget reflects no community input and fails to place priorities on classrooms.

Hundreds of teachers, union reps and protestors spoke out against the $2.5 billion budget which will keep in place recent layoffs and a plan to close dozens of schools next year.

"I can do nothing but speak out, and my members were here tonight because they want to speak out to say this is not adequate, this is not what children of Philadelphia deserve," said Jerry Jones.

One speaker after another tried to convince the SRC to vote down the budget proposal, but the Commission stated their hands were tied.

"It was an unpleasant budget. It was an unpleasant meeting," said Padro Ramos. "The positive part is that I will take that kind of passion that you saw in that room over indifference over any day of the week."

The SRC is planning to borrow $218 million and hope to get an additional $94 million from the city for the newly approved budget.

"We really have to stabilize the district now so we can stop these financial crises every few years," said Ramos.

The SRC says it could take several months of public hearings before they make a decision on closing schools and dismantling the central administration.

The city could approve the $94 million by the end of next month. If that does not happen, the school district is facing even bigger problems and an even bigger budget deficit.