Yesterday, Philadelphia School District Superintendent William Hite informed Philly’s citizens that the distressed school district would be sending layoff notices to over 300 school employees. This is on top of over 4,000 employees already laid off since Hite took the helm of the city’s schools back in 2012. Since that time, Hite has also closed 24 school buildings.

Kristen Graham reports for the Philadelphia Inquirer that the affected employees include: “157 special education classroom assistants; 147 noon-time aides; 15 pre-kindergarten teacher assistants; eight assistant principals; four career and technical support assistants; three conflict resolution specialists; two of each of library assistants, community relations liaisons and central office employees; one bilingual counseling assistant and one sign language interpreter.”

Now, to be fair, the school district needs money; after all, the district is currently looking at a $93 million deficit. And, obviously, the quickest (and laziest and most hurtful) way to get money is to fire so-called “non-essential” personnel like guidance counselors, nurses, librarians and classroom support aides, including those for special needs students. The fact that special education students are set to be affected by these layoffs is particularly inexplicable given the GOP-controlled legislature has actually increased funding for special education in Pennsylvania. The notion that school nurses are first on the district’s chopping block is equally as inexcusable, considering that children are literally dying in Philly public schools where no nurses are on duty.

Unfortunately, despite the obvious need for proper education of Philadelphia’s youth, Republican state legislators from outside Philadelphia don’t seem to care much about funding the school system responsible for the children of 1.5 million Pennsylvanians. To “remedy” the problem, they’ve proposed increasing cigarette taxes in Philadelphia by $2-per-pack. But, they were too uninterested to even act properly on that and didn’t pass it this week as planned.

Hite has even indicated that more layoffs are coming if the cigarette tax, now inexplicably an expectation rather than a request by the city, isn’t implemented prior to the start of the 2013-14 school year.

In short, though, this Republican-created problem sustained by ineffectual leadership here in Philadelphia is paid for on the backs of poor urban schoolchildren. The response of the state legislature seems to be intentional salutary neglect, letting urban kids wither on the vine as long as possible. And, the response of the city’s leaders, including Hite himself, seems to be increasing administrator salaries while firing all working-class employees and letting the chips fall where they may.

The problem isn’t entirely mystifying, though.

It’s unsurprising because Philly, the largest city and economic powerhouse of the state of Pennsylvania, is currently at the mercy of a few angry white men from rural counties. And, on multiple issues—most notably education and mass transit—1.5 million Philadelphians are like Dickens’ scamp Oliver: hat-in-hand, begging for some more.

In response, the mouth-breathing country boys comprising the state legislature in Harrisburg went on vacation before helping anyone.




About The Author

Contributing columnist

Josh Kruger is an award-winning writer and commentator in Philadelphia. His @PhillyWeekly column, “The Uncomfortable Whole,” took the 2014 First Place Spotlight Award for weekly newspaper commentary from the Society of Professional Journalists and the 2014 Second Place Award for weekly newspaper commentary in the United States and Canada from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia. He also blogs daily for PW on various topics including queer culture and news, mass transit, politics, crime, drugs, HIV/AIDS, civil liberties, activism, media and everything else Philly.

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