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PFT launches neighborhood rallies to protest budget cuts

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

By Mark McHugh

Dressed in their red union shirts, members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers filled a crowd of abut 60 people who gathered outside DeBurgos Elementary School on Tuesday afternoon to protest the budget crisis in the School District.

The protest is the first of an August campaign launched by the PFT called “Rally the Neighborhood,” in which PFT members and community organizers will stage rallies at neighborhood schools to call attention to the District’s fiscal crisis and paint a picture for the public of what students will be without when school starts in September.

“DeBurgos is a microcosm of what is taking place in the Kensington community, in North Philadelphia, in the whole city, and to be honest, the whole state and nation,” said Hillary Linardopoulos, a 3rd-grade teacher at DeBurgos.

“The idea of [the rallies] is highlighting some examples of what these cuts will look like in actual schools,” she said.

Linardopoulos has worked with the PFT all summer to oppose the budget cuts. Just this past week, she estimated that she, along with fellow PFT members, knocked on about 500 doors in the DeBurgos community to inform residents of the impact the cuts will have.

Despite Superintendent William Hite’s announcement on Friday during a special School Reform Commission meeting that the District will restore 220 secretaries, as well as fall sports and 66 itinerant music teachers through January, many still find the financial outlook to be grim. The funding for sports staff will run out in December, leaving winter sports temporarily out of the equation. Crucial positions, including counselors, assistant principals, and paraprofessionals and aides, have yet to be restored.

The PFT is now negotiating a new contract with the District, which is seeking $133 million in concessions from labor to help make ends meet. Most of those concessions are expected to fall on the PFT. The contract expires Aug. 31, days before school is scheduled to open.

Nelson Santiago, a father of two at DeBurgos, said that he has considered keeping his sons home from school if conditions don’t improve. But as a daily volunteer at DeBurgos and a lead organizer of multiple rallies, he said he is committed to fighting for the welfare of the children.

“We aren’t going to have a nurse. I’m scared [because] my children both have asthma [and] they have to get treatment,” Santiago said.

Concerns such as Santiago’s raise the question of whether schools will be able to function safely and efficiently without the resources that have been eliminated when they open for the first day on Sept. 9.

“I’m worried. Not just for mine,” Santiago said. “The same love I have for my children, I have for all. I fight for all the children at this school.”

Mark McHugh is an intern at the Notebook.

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