Residents at One Penn Center discuss the upcoming mayoral primary. Reporting for Philadelphia Neighborhoods: Avory Brookens at Temple University.[vimeo 120907405 w=800 h=450]
While the race to see who will become Philadelphia’s next mayor revolves around a number of issues facing the city, the issue that appears to be at the forefront is funding for the city’s district and charter schools.
Not only is the Northwest section of Philadelphia home to many public and charter schools, like Roxborough High School (pictured below), but it’s also home to many of the city’s most active voters. That makes pleasing Northwest voters very important for the mayoral candidates.
One of those candidates, Senator Anthony H. Williams, has been under fire from his opponents because of his stance on charter schools.
Williams is pro-charter, and has said publicly that he would consider accepting a $35 million donation from the Philadelphia School Partnership, a non-profit advocacy group, to increase the number of charter schools in the city.
Some Northwest residents, like Joe Laport, are not sure if taking this money would be in the best interest of everybody.
“I think we need to fix what we already have before we think about adding more,” said Laport. “New schools need time to grow but the schools we have still need improvements.”
Laport will be sending his daughter (pictured above) to school in a few years and he said that the funding issue would definitely impact his family.
“It’s a huge deal,” said Laport. “My daughter will be in school for the next mayor’s entire term. I’ll probably vote for whichever candidate has my family’s best interests in mind.”
Williams’ opponents believe that his stance is just to further his campaign and that he is not interested in developing good schools or helping to rid the school district of its $80 million deficit.
Specifically, former Common Pleas Judge and fellow candidate Nelson Diaz said in a statement, “We shouldn’t hold school funding hostage to demands of Sen. Williams’ shadow campaign committee.”
In a statement, PSP Executive Director Mark Gleason said, “We agree that financial impact is an important consideration, and it has become clear that cost concerns are hindering the SRC from making decisions about the charter applications in the best interest of kids and families who are eager for a new opportunity to attend a great school.”
Gleason would later say that of the $35 million donation, $25 million would go towards offsetting the costs associated with new charter schools, and the other $10 million would go towards the transformation of district schools.
Some Northwest residents believe that expanding charter seats will be very beneficial for the school district.
“The charter schools in Philadelphia provide such a great education,” said Roxborough resident James O’Connor. “I think adding more charters would be a smart move.”
O’Connor also said that with the school district facing such a large deficit, any money that they can get their hands on is a good thing.
“If there is money going towards the school system, that’s a positive in my mind,” said O’Connor.
Other residents, like Kaitlin Quinn, think the money should be distributed evenly throughout the district.
“There are public schools and charter schools here in the Northwest,” said Quinn. “Both could use the money. So, if a group is willing to donate money to the district, I think we should take it.”
Philadelphia residents are aware that the deficit facing the school district is a large issue, but the source of help is a hang up, and could have a huge impact on who becomes the city’s next mayor.
– Text and images by Kevin Wright and Jayson Loose.
Inside the Ramonita de Rodriquez Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia, children can be seen reading, playing, and creating school projects in a cheerful room decorated with crafts. They come every Monday through Thursday from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. for the library’s Literacy Enrichment Afterschool Program (LEAP).
Having comprehensive after-school programs like LEAP is something the next mayor of Philadelphia needs to foster in the Ludlow community, according to the library’s manager and after-school leader.
“I know the mayor did a big grant for the libraries last year,” said after-school leader Jane Ahmad. “I would like for the next mayor to contribute more money to after-school programs like this. As you see, we have a full house.”
The library, located on 600 W. Girard Ave., is helping fulfill educational responsibilities through its after-school program, while tackling an important issue within the community: literacy.
One of the goals of the program is to improve literacy through reinforcement education. Ahmad and teenage volunteers will read to the children and assign an activity based on the reading. Ahmad said this type of learning supplements the standard classroom education, because teachers may ask questions about a topic the children have more knowledge of because they learned about it in LEAP.
“February was Black History Month, so we had a reading about the Freedom Quilt,” Ahmad said. “The children made their own freedom quilts and reported on it and how it relates to their reading.”
Ahmad and other teenage leadership assistants work as a team to provide any assistance that the children, grades K-12, may need with their studies or extracurricular activities.
Lydia Lynes, a social work major at Temple University, has been doing her work study at the library for the past year and feels it is an important part of the community. Lynes hopes the next mayor will continue funding these types of after-school programs.
“I think Mayor Nutter did a really good job with the education system,” Lynes said. “The graduation rates have gone up and he gave more funding to the public libraries, which increases the literacy rates. Programs like these are important because instead of hanging out on the streets. Kids are staying in school.”
Lisa Chianese-Lopez, who has been library manager of the Ramonita de Rodriquez Branch since 2012, expressed she wants more funding for libraries in schools, as it relates directly to youth literacy.
“Education definitely needs to be improved,” she said. “That’s one of my hot buttons because most schools don’t have the budget to have a library. They don’t have the staffing to bring their children to the library. The ones who do have libraries don’t have staff or funding to bring in new resources or pay a librarian.”
Ahmad directly sees the impact of schools closing. She lives across from the Germantown High School, which closed in June 2013.
“It’s a very depressing area now,” she said. “It used to be full of life, with kids going to school in the morning. Now it’s just over there with a big ‘for sale’ sign.”
The library’s after-school program especially becomes important with recent public and charter school closings right in the area. Charter school, Walter D. Palmer, located adjacent to the library, closed its doors Dec. 31. Local public schools then took in the surplus of students, which created problems, according to Ahmad.
“Intended politicians need to find a way to educate these children where the environment they’re in is not overpopulated,” she said. “All those kids from Germantown had to merge in with the children from Martin Luther King High School, so now they’re dealing with extra problems like overcrowding and so forth.”
Most of the children attending LEAP come from Ludlow elementary, Kearny and St. Peter’s Apostle parochial school.
In addition to LEAP, the library connects residents to resources and help surrounding problems like poverty and homelessness.
Chianese-Lopez said the library plays many other roles in the community.
“We are no longer a warehouse of books,” she said. “We are part of the community. We find people help. You don’t know how many times a week somebody comes in and says they need to find shelter or ‘I’m on a fixed income and they are turning off my electricity.’”
Chianese-Lopez said she hopes for the next mayor to continue other community outreach programs that have a strong focus on education.
“One thing this mayor has been doing that I don’t think a lot of people know about it, is called Philly Rising,” she said. “It’s a program that targets some of the most violent neighborhoods and tries to lift up the residents in the area and bring them help. I hope that the next mayor either continues this or has something comparable to it because it helps a lot of people.”
– Text and images by Lauren Brown and Caitlin O’Connell.