Philadelphia Schools Broke, But Thousands of Books Unused

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A teacher in the Philadelphia School District heard that there were thousands of books that had come from the dozens of city schools which were closed two years ago, boxed in the basement of the Philadelphia School District’s headquarters.  According to Mike Newall of The Philadelphia Inquirer, just like many other teachers in the city district, the teacher used fund-raising websites to get the books her students needed as the stored books remained unused.

And just like many other teachers, her students could not take books home to study because there were not enough books to go around, with many that were available in poor condition. The  teacher wanted to know more about the alleged books, so she went to the School District’s basement to see for herself. What she saw stunned her.

There was a city block of books boxed, un-boxed, stacked, disorganized, and gathering dust. She wondered why they were not in the hands of Philadelphia students. Little did she know there were thousands more books, as well as musical instruments and other supplies in the hallways and classrooms of Bok High School in South Philadelphia sitting since the school’s closure, along with 23 other schools, two years ago. The disorganization and messiness was worse than the district’s basement.

Some of the books dated to 2000, but some were last used in 2013 while others looked brand new. The Philadelphia School District has a budget deficit, so why weren’t these books, band instruments, band uniforms, and hundreds of dictionaries being used? Could some of the textbooks take the place of the tattered and torn books being used presently in classrooms city-wide? Why do classroom teachers not know about these books?

Mr. Newall spoke with district spokesperson Fernando Gallard who said this is not an unusual problem. He explained that the textbooks are outdated, but teachers are still welcome to come and peruse the items. He added that those in charge are slowly but surely getting the materials to those who can use them.

The thousands of books at Bok High School are going to be a different kind of problem because, in his opinion, the reduction of the number of employees in the district has left a dearth of workers to go through the materials.

“It’s unconscionable,” said Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. “How did his happen? How could it happen?”

The School Reform Commission head and the district argue that the books are an example of a surplus problem, not a shortage problem, and are planning a move that will turn the outdated books into a profit, writes Dylan C. Purcell of The Philadelphia Inquirer. Gallard said that principals and teachers were invited to Bok to see, but the turnout was light.

In addition, the district saved more than $2 million by relocating Bok textbooks to other schools. He adds that the books in the district’s basement have been there for many years and, at this point, no one has wanted to deal with the issue.

The Associated Press reports that the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers said teachers spend “thousands of dollars” to provide their students with instructional materials, making this excess of materials “incomprehensible”. The union has asked its members to catalog the piles of misplaced and discarded books and to distribute them to classrooms where they are needed.