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Philly principal urges pro sports teams to save school athletics

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

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Philadelphia School District officials are headed to City Council today to plead for more money.

With the District staring down a $300 million budget deficit, one high school principal says it’s time for everyone, including the city’s four professional sports teams, to chip in.

"We really are at a moment where there’s no fat being cut," said Christopher Lehmann, principal of the nationally renowned Science Leadership Academy in Center City. "This is the very fabric of our schools that [is] being put in jeopardy right now. And I think when you’re talking about that kind of moment of distress, it requires creative solutions and it requires everyone who sees a way to help, to help."

Lehmann started an online petition urging the city’s professional sports teams to come up with the $7 million that the School District needs to keep the Public League running next year. It would save afterschool sports for thousands of kids — all for less than the annual average value of the contract that the Eagles will soon sign with their new first-round draft pick, Lane Johnson.

"I thought, well, we have these amazing professional sports teams. Philadelphia is passionate about its professional sports. And maybe this is an opportunity for our teams to show how passionate they are about the kids of Philadelphia," Lehmann said.

Over the last two years, Science Leadership Academy has already lost a librarian, a science teacher and a Spanish teacher. Now the school is looking at losing a quarter of the staff it has left, its gifted program, and all of its extracurricular activities. Lehmann, who has coached everything from basketball to Ultimate Frisbee, says losing afterschool activities would be particularly painful for his kids.

"The ability to be on a team and represent your school and wear your colors, to learn all the lessons of collaboration, of shared sacrifice, of being part of something greater than yourself. … To lose that at SLA, and to lose that citywide, I just think that would be devastating to our children, and devastating to our city," he said.

A representative from the Eagles says the team already provides substantial support to Philadelphia schools and youth. The Sixers, Phillies, and Flyers didn’t make anyone available to discuss Lehmann’s petition.

Council hearings on the School District budget will continue through Wednesday.

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