This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
by Isaac Riddle
About 50 parents, teachers, students, and community members joined Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan in a protest about budget cuts outside of Vare-Washington Elementary School on Wednesday afternoon.
The group gathered to voice concerns over the latest loss of programs and services at the South Philadelphia school and to talk about the impact the District’s leveling efforts will have on a school already hurting from staffing shortages brought on by districtwide budget cuts.
With leveling, every fall the District aligns staffing projections with actual student enrollment. This often means having to shuffle teaching staff from one school to another to keep student-to-teacher ratios in line with contract requirements. With the District in the middle of a funding crisis, leveling has become a potentially devastating process for many schools in need of every available staffer.
Protesters at Vare-Washington said that as a result of leveling — which the District is expected to complete next week — the school anticipates the loss of six teachers, a dean of students, and a teacher-leader who guides and assists school staff.
“The loss of six people is going to have a profound effect on these children,” Jordan said.
“I don’t think my child is going to get the special education she needs with 33 kids in one class,” said Vania Jimenez, a parent of a kindergartner and 1st grader at Vare-Washington.
As mandated in the District’s contract with the PFT, now expired, classrooms cannot exceed 30 students in grades K-3 and 33 students in grades 4-12.
Destiny Tiquin, an 8th grader at Vare-Washington who admits that it is hard for her to focus, said she is concerned that a reduced teaching staff will mean she won’t get the help she needs. The teacher who has been providing Tiquin with academic support is one of the teachers who the school expects to lose at the beginning of next week.
“We need all our teachers and staff,” Tiquin said.
Parents and teachers are also upset that the school has a guidance counselor on site only three days per month.
At the rally, teachers and parents handed out complaint forms they intend to send to the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
“Thirty-four kids in a classroom is not acceptable; children being moved again is not acceptable,” said Kathleen Kramer, the PFT building representative at Vare-Washington.
“Our kids have been through enough.”
Isaac Riddle is an intern at the Notebook.