Against New Spending

Testimony of Maddie Luebbert to the BOE, 12/10/20

Good evening Dr. Hite and members of the School Board. 

I am Maddie Luebbert, a teacher at Kensington Health Sciences Academy and a member of the Racial Justice Organizing Committee. I’m going to speak against Action Item 18. I hope you’ll indulge for just a moment while I paint you a picture: 

It’s July 23. There are dozens of concerned students, parents, and teachers (or perhaps you know them as “crazy people”) that have signed up to testify about the troubling reopening plan. 

Constituents have many concerns about the plan, but there exists a fairly common refrain: Please invest in virtual learning rather than dumping money into a half-baked hybrid or in-person plan. 

And yet, it’s December 10 and we’re discussing $7 million allotted “for the purchase, installation, training and ongoing maintenance of classroom audio-visual systems and related classroom technology, to support hybrid and digital instruction.” This is being heaped on top of an already $40 million contract. 

I’m a little confused. Last week, I got an ominous email alluding to “tough decisions” (aka layoffs) that might need to happen to close a $10 million gap in the budget. Well, here’s 70% of that money! We can bring the gap down to just $3 million! Surely we know that our employees and their well-being is more important than tech. 

In July, we begged you to hold off spending on materials for in person or hybrid learning. For months now, educators have brought up numerous concerns about teaching via live recording, including the ways it will invariably be used to police students in a predominantly Black and Brown district. 

And yet, we get messages from the bosses about how sad they are to make tough choices that will not only affect the lives of District employees, but will also traumatize the students that have grown close to their beloved teachers, counselors, nurses, and secretaries. 

It didn’t seem tough to spend over $600K on an office suite remodel at 440 last year. It didn’t seem tough to throw money indiscriminately at the failure of a project at Ben Franklin High School even though peoples’ lives were put in danger and contractors failed time and again to meet deadlines. And it never seems tough when the School Board gets out their big rubber stamp for these and other expensive budget items. 

Apparently it’s never tough to choose money and shiny projects over the lives of children. 

Unfortunately, the City of Philadelphia and every other government entity has failed in handling this public health crisis. Instead, we’ve been gaslighted, silenced, called crazy, and dismissed by the people who make decisions about our very livelihoods. Many are frustrated with virtual learning, but I wonder how it could have been if we had a more realistic approach to planning for this school year. 

It is unbelievable that leaders will talk out of one side of their mouth saying “there’s nothing we could have done to avoid these tough choices” while out the other they are promising millions to outside contractors. At best, this is foolish. At worst it’s truly immoral. 

Please do not approve action item 18. Do not spend one more dollar until you can assure that no jobs will be lost and no resources will be taken from our schools. Again, we beg you: make the easy, moral, and human choice.

Thank you.