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Oakland and Philly schools face tough circumstances

STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 10/6/2011, 4:09 p.m.

As states wrestle with major budget woes, their economic problems are tumbling down into their largest cities. Across the nation, from the East Coast to the West Coast, health and educational services are all beginning to feel the strain. Two predominately Black cities, Oakland and Philadelphia, are prime examples.

Last week, parents, children and teachers lashed out at members of the Oakland school board during a meeting to discuss a plan to close five elementary schools and eliminate an additional eight through consolidation next year. The plan would save the city $2 million.

Lakeview, Lazear, Marshall, Maxwell and Santa Fe are the five schools recommended for closure. If the school district were to accept the board's recommendations, not only would the schools be closed, but 959 students would have to be relocated.

Under current state funding formulas, the five elementary schools are too small to qualify for funding, leaving the city to pick up the tab. California distributes funding per student, which means smaller schools end up with less money. However, Superintendent Tony Smith has an additional reason for wanting to close these schools.

"The real reason for this is we have too many schools for the number of children we have," Smith told ABC-7. "If we were outperforming in those districts, that would be one thing." However, stats show that 17 percent of the students are not passing the high school exit exam.

In Philadelphia, the problem isn't a testing issue, but jobs. The school district of Philadelphia revealed last month that it had sent 848 layoff notices to employees after their union rejected a tentative contract agreement with the district.

George Ricchezza, leader of 32BJ SEIU District 1201, is not happy with Philadelphia's actions and released a statement expressing as much back in September. "By putting more than 1,100 men and women out of work, the Philadelphia school district will not just make life more difficult for these workers and their families, but will inflict harm on our schools and our struggling economy," said Ricchezza, who also received a letter indicating his termination.

"Eliminating nearly half of the workforce that supports our school system-including all school bus drivers-would decimate our schools' ability to function and ensure our kids' safety," he continued. "Philadelphia students are already paying the price after the [former schools superintendant Arlene] Ackerman administration turned our schools' finances upside down, and they deserve better than this.

"We call on the district to rescind this unconscionable and reckless move, and meet with us in the best interests of our city to avoid what would amount to a devastating blow to our school system."

However, according to district spokesperson Fernando Gallard via the Philadelphia Inquirer, "There was an offer on the table-a delay in wage increases, a six-month delay in step increases-that only resulted in 192 layoffs."