Amid Cuts and Closures, Philly Students Build a Shrine for Their School

Elementary school students made a memorial in front their former school, closed due to the Philadelphia School District’s budget crisis.

Credit: Tim Gibbon

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Philadelphia public schools have spent the summer in crisis. The school district’s already deep financial woes turned into a state of emergency when the School Reform Commission’s new financial plan amounted to massive cuts, leaving the district to fill a $304 million budgetary hole. It ended up laying off around 3,800 employees, including 127 assistant principals, 646 teachers and upward of 1,200 aides.

Central High School’s president sent a letter to stakeholders explaining that the school would reopen with “no assistant principals, no support staff, no aides, no secretaries, no counselors, no books, no paper, etc.” Last week Philadelphia City Paper spoke with students who are anxious about facing college admissions without a guidance counselor. A junior at the High School for the Creative and Performing Arts told the paper she was preparing to study without basic stock, since last year the school’s ceramics department didn’t even have clay.

On August 8, Superintendent William R. Hite announced that schools would not open on time without the promise of an additional $50 million from the city. The school district requested $180 million, but according to the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, has only generated around $80 million so far. “I will not put our children’s safety at risk by putting them into environments that are disorderly and chaotic,” Hite tweeted. “Students deserve better.”

Mayor Michael Nutter and the Philadelphia City Council on Friday committed to pay the $50 million, but have not yet agreed on how to borrow the money. An estimated 1,000 employees should be rehired, although 24 schools will remain closed.

One of the schools shuttered was Fairhill School in North Philadelphia. Yesterday, around a dozen students gathered to build a memorial in front of the its doors. Tim Gibbon, who works for a neighborhood non-profit organization, says the idea came from the kids themselves.

“We were just talking about how they were sad that the school was closing,” Gibbon said. “That was kind of like their second home to them. Up in the neighborhood, there’s a lot of shrines like that whenever’s there’s an act of violence… but this was a way of flipping it.”

There to memorialize Fairhill were children, parents, former teachers and others. They brought photographs, flowers, stuffed animals and candles from home. “Nobody was hurt or nobody was killed, but the school was essentially killed due to the budget cuts,” Gibbon said. After the shrine was finished, the students shared memories.

“It’s been a real shakeup to lose their community school,” Gibbon added. According to figures from the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, roughly 600 students will be funneled into other schools.

Gallery: Students Build Shrine for Fairhill School

All photos by Tim Gibbon

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Cassie Owens is a regular contributor to Next City. Her writing has also appeared at, Philadelphia City Paper and other publications.

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Tags: philadelphiapublic schoolsbudgetsmichael nutter

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