Philadelphia school crisis far from solved

PHILADELPHIA – As the nation watched, public schools here opened on Sept. 4 in a state of confusion and uncertainty, with 150 teaching positions vacant and 211 support staff on layoff.

Seventy of the city’s 264 schools are in the process of major change, 42 of them to be run by private management firms. Among these firms is Edison Schools, Inc., with a contract to manage 20 of them.

The confusion was made even more confusing when Edison, with a signed contract in the amount of $11.8 million – some $800 per student more than allotted to public school students – returned to Philadelphia’s school authorities several truckloads of school supplies it had planned to use.

Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) spoke of the failure of such management companies. “Edison’s students in York, Pa., are performing worse than the average student in Philadelphia. Students in Chester’s Penn-Edison Elementary School are at the bottom of the county’s schools,” Fattah said. Even Mayor John Street said that it was a waste of money to hire Edison.

Despite his calling the state takeover a “partnership” between Philadelphia and its residents, there has been no partnership between Republican Gov. Mark Schweiker and the city. Neither parents, teachers, students, elected officials, community representatives nor the unions representing school workers have been a part of the planning for school reform. Instead, Gov. Schweiker and his staff have wielded their power to enhance their corporate friends.

Because of constant protest against Edison and privatization in general, the School Reform Commission (SRC) backed down on Edison’s role in its reform plans and the number of schools to be privatized.

An angry Schweiker threatened to replace his own appointees to the SRC, to manage the entire district and institute its own model of reform in the low-achieving schools. Edison has never made a profit for its stockholders, but insisted it only needed more schools to become profitable.

It appears that Schweiker intended to give it that opportunity, not just in Philadelphia, but throughout the state and, for that matter, the entire country.

Philadelphians United to Support Public Schools, a coalition of 30 organizations, plans to monitor the 70 targeted schools. Its members will also visit legislators to learn their views on all the educational issues.

The coalition will lobby for equity in school funding as well as real school reform and attended a Sept. 4 special session of the legislature dealing with questions of taxation.

The author can be reached at phillyrose1@hotmail.com