This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Representatives of the School District of Philadelphia, its five labor unions, and the Philadelphia Student Union (PSU) gathered with U.S. Rep. Bob Brady at Furness High School in South Philadelphia Monday to tout the potential local impact of President Obama’s proposed American Jobs Act.
“Philadelphia needs the American Jobs Act to fix our aging schools and to give our students the resources they need to compete in a global, knowledge-based economy,” said Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.
If passed, the act would provide an infusion of cash that could help offset the looming possibility of widespread school closings and consolidations.
As currently proposed, the act calls for $25 billion in school modernization funds nationally, almost $400 million of which would be earmarked for Philadelphia, said Jordan. Statewide, he said, it would prevent over 14,000 teacher layoffs and create 12,300 new jobs.
Last Tuesday, the full jobs act was blocked by the U.S. Senate. This week, the Obama administration is working to build support for the bill. Obama has asked Congress to start with passing $35 billion for teachers, fire fighters, and police officers.
“It’s pure partisan politics,” said Brady. “It’s because it’s President Barack Obama’s bill. [Republicans] don’t want to do anything at all to make him look good.”
Officials chose Furness as the site of the press event because the school has maintained a warm, welcoming climate, and a strong academic record despite being housed in a crumbling 97-year old facility.
The school could be in danger of possible closure as part of the District’s facilities master planning process. Final recommendations from District staff on what schools to close or consolidate are expected to be made public later this month or early in November.
“Furness should be modernized or renovated, but not closed down,” said Brittany Butler, a junior at Furness and PSU member. “This is a special place.”
“I think students would want to take more aggressive action” if a closure recommendation is made at Furness, said Nijmie Dzurinko, executive director of PSU.
For their part, several of the union leaders said they hoped to be given more opportunities for greater input as the facilities process unfolds.
George Ricchezza, president of District 1201 of SEIU Local 32BJ, said that his union has made repeated overtures to the District in the hopes of having their voices taken into consideration, but that the requests have been ignored.
“I have 39 years with the School District. I think I bring a little bit to the table in terms of how things get done,” said Ricchezza. "We believe there are viable alternatives."