Remarks to City Council re: School District Budget 2017-2018
Barbara McDowell Dowdall
English/Academic Department Head (Retired)
Philip Randolph Technical High School
Good afternoon, members of Philadelphia City Council Education Committee.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak today on the proposed School District of Philadelphia budget for 2017-2018.
Rather than speak about the school district’s budget for one year, I would like to address overarching issues of budget priorities in general: how they are set and by whom.
As testimony from last week’s hearing here by school district officials indicates, all power for budget decisions rests [and has for the last 15 years] with the five appointed [3 by PA governors and 2 by Philadelphia mayors] members of the School Reform Commission and their superintendent. Although generally acknowledged that those in power are very willing to come and testify here, especially in times when there is a request for additional monies, the power of City Council members to have influence over budgetary decisions appears to be ceremonial at best.
I would argue, especially in light of recent research by the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia (PHILCOP) on the matter of school funding sources [state 34%; city 59.9%], that City Council (and the Mayor, too!) have both the right to know and the responsibility to direct how funds are allocated. In the matter of school libraries and instrumental music, for example, we as a metropolitan community determined to provide high quality education for every student could and should insist that these resources be provided in every school, not as part of a list of options determined by the principal. I append here two articles, one written by me several years ago and one appearing in Newsworks today.
Added sans text: When we had instrumental music in every school, we sent students to symphony orchestras: Ann Hobson Pilot was the first African American principal harpist in the Boston Symphony; Booker Rowe went to the Philadelphia Orchestra. We don’t know where talent will be found, not to mention the joy that music brings to life. I was handed a bassoon at Roosevelt Junior High in 1959 (a majority African American school population at the time) and I am still playing. (Concert of the Doctors Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia last Saturday).
Branch Libraries are not School Libraries
Branch libraries, wonderful as they are, are not school libraries. Public libraries cannot, and should not, be asked to serve the essential and unique function of a fully-supplied and certified teacher/librarian-staffed school library, where materials are selected and suited to students and the curriculum, where librarian and teachers can collaborate in developing student research skills, where students are able to access the full attention of their librarian in lessons attuned to their grade level and where utilization is certain and woven into the school day. Rather than assume, somehow, that every one of the newly-equipped 98,000 student card holders will now be regularly reporting to her or his local branch library for leisure-reading materials and individualized guidance in research projects, we should instead be intent on restoring the cruelly-excised school libraries and librarians that no suburban or private school has been asked to do without.
Let us remember the words of Dr. Harold Howe, U.S. Commissioner of Education in the Johnson administration: “What a school thinks about its library is a measure of what it feels about education.”
Which Philly schools don’t have instrumental music?
As the School District of Philadelphia rebuilds its music program, data shows that more than 50 schools still don’t have instrumental music instruction through the district — and that those schools serve disproportionately high numbers of minority students.