The following is testimony delivered to the Philadelphia School Reform Commission on March 26.

Good afternoon. My name is Dennis Barnebey. I am a 30-year veteran teacher with the School District of Philadelphia and a parent of three fine young men, all graduates of the Philadelphia public schools. I currently teach and am the PFT [Philadelphia Federation of Teachers] building rep at Germantown High School, one of the city’s so-called comprehensive high schools, a misnomer if there ever was one. Unfortunately, there is little that is comprehensive about many of our high schools, and it is this I want to address.

Last Spring the staff at Germantown voted for a reform model that we carefully researched. We knew it would not work without support from the District to make some needed changes in our building. In spite of much skepticism, once promises were made that computer labs would be moved and/or installed, some physical alterations would be made and help would be forthcoming in moving the contents of almost all the classrooms, we agreed to give the new model a try.

Of course, soon after the end of the school year, a spending freeze prevented almost everything promised from happening, and we were left creating a new model without the needed support. Can you imagine my outrage when I visited what was supposed to be the new office for the Edison Company’s $2.7 million study of the School District last Summer?

In the morning I was informed at Germantown that there was no money available to close off a wing of the building or to move computer labs. In the afternoon I stood in awe as I saw wallboard being put up and carpet being laid to accommodate the new tenants in their free offices in the State building on Spring Garden Street.

As we spent hours of uncompensated time dragging furniture and computer mechanisms, Edison was being paid to figure out what’s wrong with the system. You were asking the wrong people.

These events of last summer are symptomatic of the entire problem with our public schools. There is no confidence that the people who work in them or the people who are serviced by them have any idea what to do with them. And there is no political will to accept the challenge of funding our schools adequately so they can be successful.

Instead, those who run this state want us to believe that corporations, in spite of the fact that they have no track record in educating successfully, have never made any money and have their eyes set on earning profits rather than serving the needs of people, have a better grasp of how to run “public” schools than we do.

Do you know that Germantown High is functioning without a librarian? There is a very competent and hard-working Instructional Materials Assistant, but she runs the library by herself. Do you know we have not one music or art teacher? Do you know that the second of two computer labs still doesn’t exist, and that the library still has no electricity for computers? Do you know we can afford only two business teachers in our allotment and that there have been no shop programs for years? Do you know we have only two counselors for 1,600 students? We had three, but one left in the middle of the year and there is no replacement.

This is not a comprehensive high school, and, to no one’s surprise, our statistics show a considerable lack of success. I’m sure hiring an unsuccessful company to run our school, infusing it with their packaged curriculum and untested models, will make all the difference in the world.

In spite of the reputation to the contrary, we have people who are anxious to work together, who have, in fact, banded together to get the school running year after year in spite of one crisis after another. But now, to face yet another year of near chaos because somebody else has a brainstorm of how to fix our troubled schools, knowing that they are being paid to develop this brainstorm, is beyond reason.

A mean, nasty trick has been played on us, our students and their parents. Our schools have been drastically underfunded for years, and now our lack of success with inadequate resources is being used as an excuse to turn the public sector over to for profit corporations, to use our tax dollars to boost a company’s stock. It is obscene.

The response to such a proposal should be simple: No. Given the current funding dilemma, the only possible solution would be to continue what has already begun: Get rid of librarians and hire assistants at half their salary. Eliminate qualified Non-Teaching Assistants and hire noon-time aides at half their salary with no benefits. Ask people to work longer hours without compensation “for the good of the kids,” while our money is squandered in corporate offices.

We need resources equal to and greater than those schools proven to be successful. We need the opportunity to work together and involve parents with their students in the process of creating school communities. This is expensive, but hiring outside agencies is not going to make it possible, because the real goal of the state seems to be saving money and paying off corporate partners rather than educating our children. Let’s do this right. Let’s fund the schools, help us create models we already know can work and send the corporations home.

Dennis Barnebey is a teacher in the Philadelphia School District. He can be reached at pww@pww.org

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