As Harrison Elementary School Principal Stefan Feaster-Eberhardt stood outside the building Thursday giving out hugs and waving goodbye to students for the summer, a former student asked, "Are they really gonna close it down?"
"They're really shutting the school down," she replied.
Harrison is one of eight schools the School Reform Commission voted to close in March as part of the district's Facilities Master Plan. For students, faculty and staff at Harrison, a K-8 school in North Philadelphia, the last day was a little more somber than usual.
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"Today was very sad, a lot of people crying and upset, especially the students," said Feaster-Eberthardt, who was named principal last September. "Our [theme] has been 'Dare to be great.' ... We're trying to give them hope for the future."
Students and parents are not the only ones facing uncertainty about the district. Approximately 2,500 cafeteria workers, building engineers and other school employees represented by 32BJ Local 1201 could be laid off if the sides cannot reach a new agreement. Both sides have set Friday as a deadline and union members were in City Council again Thursday to lobby for support from lawmakers.
"We're currently in negotiations and hope to come up with an agreement that allows us to find savings that we'll be able to put back into schools," district spokesman Fernando Gallard said.
Another big question facing the district is whether it will receive additional funding from the city. The SRC approved a $2.5 billion budget that relies on an extra $94 million from a new property-tax assessment system, but Council support for that plan is very uncertain. The district is already taking out $218 million in loans to close the deficit, but officials have said that is close to their ceiling.
Irony in timing of Council honor
For a second straight year, City Council has heard from plenty of public schools advocates as it debates whether – and how – to increase funding for the beleaguered district.
"It's kind of ironic at this time when several hundred thousand kids' future is really in the balance that we are talking – that I'm getting an honor and I'm grateful for it, but I want to urge you to think of those children and their families and to think of a way to say 'yes' and fund the schools," said Shelly Yanoff, the outgoing executive director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth.