A faith-based community organization presented the idea earlier this week of boycotting The School District of Philadelphia if city and state officials do not come through on providing the district with millions of dollars in much-needed funding.
Leaders of Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild (POWER) spoke to more than 300 parents, students, teachers, faith leaders and members of the community during a rally Monday evening. The gathering was called after The School District of Philadelphia Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. announced in a letter to parents last week that the district may not be able to open its schools on time if it doesn't receive $50 million in funding it is awaiting from the city.
But POWER doesn't just want the school district to open on time. It wants government officials to come up with a long-term funding solution to ensure that students will have a safe and enriching experience, and expects them to come up with not $50 million but $180 million, which NBC10 reports is the amount the district originally requested earlier this year.
"The reality is, what the politicians expect for us to do is just to give speeches, because when you give speeches it lasts for, at best, about 10 minutes and then it's gone. But we've come here tonight…not to give speeches, but really to light a fire," said Kevin Johnson, senior pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church, during the rally.
Johnson, who has three children of his own enrolled in the public school system, also presented the possibility of boycotting the district. If the district doesn't obtain the $180 million by the start of the year, he says, POWER could encourage parents citywide to not send their children to school.
There are approximately 136,000 students in the district, and classes are scheduled to begin Sept. 9.
Toward the end of the rally, participants took time to contact and leave messages for Governor Tom Corbett, Mayor Michael Nutter and members of the Philadelphia City Council, telling them to fund the schools.
The school district began laying off 3,800 employees on June 7 due to a $304 million budget deficit. Hite said in his letter to parents that the $50 million is needed to rehire "crucial" members of the staff. If the money has not been received by Friday, he wrote, the district will have to consider postponing the start of the school year, though it may only have to happen at some schools, or operating on a half-day schedule.
"I must be able to tell you that when your child is walking through the hallways, eating lunch or at recess, an adult will be watching them," wrote Hite. "I must be able to tell you that an assistant principal will be there to handle any disciplinary issues that distract from the focus on learning. I must be able to tell you that the principal can leave the office to address issues and support staff in other parts of the school. In the absence of additional funds, I cannot do so."
The letter also states that more funding will be needed to help the district avoid combining grades and maintain a variety of programs meant to enrich the experience of students, including extracurricular activities, Advanced Placement courses and more.
Philly.com reported Wednesday morning that no clear solution to the district's funding issues is in sight. Nutter wants the city council to extend what was a temporary sales tax increase, allowing the city to borrow $50 million against future revenue from it. City Council President Darrell Clark wants to take a different approach by having the city buy up $50 million in school district property, which it would resell later on.
Still, despite their differences, Clarke seems optimistic.
"I fully anticipate that we will have some resolution on the local level by Friday," said Clarke, according to Philly.com.
In addition to their local fight, POWER plans to organize a statewide coalition to promote a long-term funding solution for public schools across Pennsylvania.
A spokesperson for the school district could not be immediately reached for comment.