Budget Cuts Shortchange Our Children

17 Mar

Reflections: Then and Now

Submitted by Frank Murphy, March 17, 2011

In the face of drastic funding reductions in Philadelphia, constructing a basic school budget for next year will be difficult.  Designing one that ensures a high quality instructional program for every public school child will be nearly impossible. Cuts to the central office staff will come nowhere close to reducing a budget shortfall of more than a half billion dollars.  The school district’s 2011-2012 budget will eventually be balanced on the back of every individual public school’s allocation.  Critical services such as reduced class size, after school programs, summer school, music and art programs and sports activities will be either eliminated or drastically reduced.

The most serious reductions will be in the number of teaching staff assigned to each school.  It will be up to school principals to make the most difficult decisions concerning how their remaining teachers will be deployed and how greatly reduced funding will be utilized.  These school-based leaders will anguish over the decisions they will be forced to make.

Inevitably, school principals will be wrongly identified as the responsible parties for having made the cuts that will limit their students’ access to a quality educational experience.  When their students negatively react to being crowded into larger classes, forced to participate in mind numbing instructional programs, and denied access to a variety of engaging enrichment activities, it will be the principal and his/her teaching staff who will bear the brunt of their animosity.

The climate of schools across the district will suffer.  Student test scores will decline.  As a result, more schools will be identified in the next year as failures. Then they too will be targeted for drastic reforms such as being closed or handed over to private managers.

Unfortunately, the parties truly responsible for this travesty will not be implicated.  These include the elected officials who cut school funding, the central administrative leadership who insist on pursuing the expensive experimental Renaissance School turn-around strategy, the advocates for the privatization of public schools and any citizens who forsake their fiscal responsibility for the education of other people’s children.

It has never been easy for principals in Philadelphia to construct a budget that ensures a quality instructional program for all of their students.  The money traditionally allotted has always fallen short of that which is needed to create small classes, provide high quality professional development, purchase necessary texts and school supplies and fund a robust arts program.  These are just the minimum needs of any good school.

In the opening installments of the March chapter of Confessions of an Urban Principal, I focused on describing the difficulties of crafting a school budget during the Vallas administration.  These problems are ones that I detailed then.  They have become much more pronounced now in the current budget crisis.  And unfortunately, the unfair burden being placed on school principals to do the impossible task of organizing an effective school program with severely limited funds is a crushing one.  It is driving strong leaders away from the place we need them most, at the school site.

I am a retired Philadelphia school principal.  But I still remained a concerned and committed advocate for the children of our city.  This is why I have chosen to continue to speak up for their right to an equal and equitable educational opportunity.

The proposed budget cuts that have been identified by Governor Corbett will be detrimental to the future of our children.  The insistence of carrying on with Dr. Ackerman’s unproven and costly programs will only place more of our students at greater risk of receiving inferior school services.

It is time for our leadership to seriously address the difficulties that our public schools face as they daily attempt to serve the neediest of our citizens.  Ignoring the problems of poverty and the inequality of the distribution of resources in our society is absurd.  Blaming educators for society’s failure is unacceptable.

Do we have any leaders who can offer solutions that address the real problems of our schools as opposed to casting suspicion on the motives of school staffs and denigrating individuals who dare to express their point of view?  It is way past time to put a stop to victimizing and making scapegoats of the people who serve the children in our most distressed communities.


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