For Philadelphia Parents, $50 Million to Open Schools is Not Enough

Thanks to a $50 million infusion from the city government, Philadelphia schools will be opening their doors on time. The first step will be rehiring about 1,000 of the workers who were pink-slipped over the summer. However, some parents who spoke to NBC Philadelphia believe that this won’t be enough.

After Superintendent William R. Hite, Jr. threatened to delay the start of classes due to financial shortfalls, parents from all over the city threatened to boycott Philadelphia public schools. Parents argued that the schools were so strained that there was no way that they could provide a good academic environment for children. Even though the infusion of the $50 million means that the district will be able to hire back enough counselors, nurses and administrators to make schools safe to open, many parents believe that more is needed.

Many say the cash infusion is a paltry bandage on a district hemorrhaging red ink, and that the buildings will simply be shells _ without sufficient resources or staff to offer students a safe and adequate learning environment. About 2,500 workers remain laid off.

“We’re all just kind of stunned this could be happening in modern time, that a government would not choose to fund education,” said Lisa Criniti-Ciervo, who has two children in the district. “We’re all just kind of appalled.”

Robin Roberts, who has three children enrolled in district schools, is now seriously considering alternative educational arrangements including homeschooling or an online charter school. And she’s not alone. Families attending a public meeting held at a Philadelphia church or at townhalls hosted by district officials believe that their children will not be safe unless more money – and therefore more staff – is made available.

The monetary commitment came Thursday, but it’s still unclear what form the $50 million will take. Mayor Michael Nutter says the city will borrow the funds, but council members say they won’t approve such a transaction. They want the cash to come from the sale of school property.

Still, the pledge means Greenfield Elementary principal Dan Lazar is getting back a much-needed counselor for his 600 students. He knows some of his peers at smaller buildings aren’t as lucky _ and yet Lazar said he still needs much, much more. His school is one of several seeking direct donations from parents to offset the budget cuts.

Meanwhile, Roberts hopes that both lawmakers and district officials remember that Philadelphia parents have real power, should they choose to exercise it. After the recent brouhaha over new school report cards when parents spoke their minds at a number of meetings held by the district, district officials would be foolish to forget that.