Philadelphia schools open Monday amid uncertainty

PHILADELPHIA - September 9, 2013

The district has rehired about 1,600 of the 3,800 employees laid off over the summer to close a $304-million budget gap. Students are also adjusting to consolidated schools as they begin a new year of learning.

Yet despite everything, students at Martin Luther King High School received a warm welcome from a supportive community as they embark on the start of a new school year.

Arnold Wells, whose child attends Martin Luther King High, says, "It's amazing how you have clergy, community, parents just show up for support of the kids."

But with the new school year comes new challenges. Martin Luther King High School has merged with longtime rival Germantown High School, and there is a concern that the rivalry could lead to increased friction in the hallways, all while budget cuts are forcing the Philadelphia School District to operate with more than 2,000 fewer staff members.

Principal William Wade tells us, "This year we have to do more with less and we're prepared."

Wade, who is entering his third year as principal of MLK, is positive that he has enough resources to ensure a strong academic year for the nearly 1,300 students. However, while Action News was inside the school this morning, off-camera we witnessed a fight break out. Principal Wade says the two juniors have always been MLK students and that their beef had nothing to do with the school merger.

Wade explains, "Those two young men hadn't seen each other all summer, and this is a convenient place for them to start hugging and asking each other a few questions. But we were right on top of it."

"I'm positive, I'm confident that this should be a good school year," said Robin Hart from Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church.

But others, like parent Howard Fortune, are not as confident. The changes and a lack of resources had him hesitant to leave school grounds after dropping off his three children who previously attended Germantown High School.

Fortune tells Action News, "It's kind of crazy for any school to be understaffed. You know, these are our kids, your kids, anybody's kids ... they need to be protected at all times. Who knows what's going to happen?"

It is because of those concerns that the Philadelphia Police Department is involved in trying to make this a safe environment for all students. Commissioner Charles Ramsey stopped by MLK this morning, as well as other schools, to make sure everyone was behaving themselves.

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