Testimony given by Hillary Linardopoulos, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers
Philadelphia City Council State of Schools Hearing | May 6, 2019
Good Afternoon Councilmember Gym and Councilmembers, I’m Hillary Linardopoulos, and I am on staff at the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. On behalf of the 12,000 educators who work in the more than 200 schools in the School District of Philadelphia, thank you for the opportunity to testify today, and thank you for centering the discussion regarding our schools on a deep and unwavering commitment to bettering the lives of our young people and supporting the educators who work diligently to do just that.
A budget is a reflection of priorities. As Councilmembers, you are in the midst of setting forth your priorities for the coming year, and in turn developing your road map for moving Philadelphia forward. The facilities crisis, I believe, has an across the board consensus in being a defining component of not only the discussions around the budget, but in terms of shaping an investment agenda. At the PFT, we work every day to demand equity for our public schools. In the poorest big city in the nation, in a school system educating largely students of color facing poverty, how we, as a union and as a city, prioritize this fight defines the work we do.
But for too many of our children, for too many communities across the city, the vision of a “thorough and efficient” public education remains elusive, due to years of catastrophic disinvestment in our children. And the facilities crisis we are currently facing is emblematic of that negligence. To enable you to take a closer look at what our students and educators are facing, we’ve prepared a number of datasets for you. In them, you will find overviews of the concerning conditions in our schools, as well as closer looks at how many students and schools are affected by pervasive problems such as lead, asbestos, and mold. One of the metrics we utilized to document conditions is what’s known as the FCI, or Facilities Condition Index, and you’ll see a dataset dedicated to examining how many of our schools meet the threshold for being in poor/critical, fair, and good condition.
I will share some of the statistics from our data, but before I do I want to note some of the good work that has taken place within this body, and some of the collaborative efforts that we’ve undertaken with the School District. Councilmembers Green and Squilla should be commended for authoring some of the most rigorous lead testing requirements for schools anywhere in the nation. Councilmember Gym’s tireless work to install water hydration stations is making a real difference for young people.
The establishment of a facilities task force, under the leadership of Council President Clarke and headed up by Councilmember Quinones-Sanchez is also encouraging. Council has also worked to incorporate stakeholder participation in these endeavors, and that is critical. The School District and the PFT have taken a number of important steps to improve collaboration on maintenance issues, and the PFT is involving the District in efforts like the utilization of our smartphone app to document problems in schools.
But the sobering reality is that there is much, much work to be done. Of the roughly 220 schools for which we have data, 155 of those can be classified as being in “poor/critical” condition when using the scientific “Facilities Condition Index” assessment. Those 155 schools represent more than 88,000 students who are learning in an environment each day that is quite literally poisoning them. It represents thousands of educators experiencing the same.
When you look at the presence of asbestos and lead, roughly 190 schools are affected. I should note that there are abatement efforts underway on both toxins, particularly regarding lead. Additionally, the presence of asbestos itself is not necessarily an indication of an immediate problem, but with the deferred maintenance that has plagued our schools for so long, it is certainly a risk and a likely one. Those 190 schools represent more than 110,000 students learning in an environment where lead and asbestos are present. Additionally, another environmental hazard—mold—affects roughly 142 schools, and in turn more than 88,000 students.
And finally, we have made estimates on some additional, and critical, hazards and their presence in our schools. The estimates we’ve formulated are based on decades of research and observation on the part of our environmental scientist Jerry Roseman. I invite you to look through those on your summary sheet.
Data like this tells a story. It tells the story of just how pervasive this problem is. Just how many students and educators are affected every day, many in irreversible ways. Surely, the story of Dean Pagan, the Comly Elementary student featured in the Inquirer’s “Toxic Schools” series, is not an isolated incident. He got poisoned by lead. At his desk. In his school. And his life is forever altered. And that should horrify all of us.
The scope of this problem is massive, but real steps towards progress are at our fingertips. That’s why the PFT convened a coalition of elected officials and other partners to coalesce around an immediate ask for facilities remediation. And with the work of our environmental scientist, the “Fund our Facilities” coalition was able to use real figures to determine that for $170 million dollars, we can abate the most pressing needs—including but not limited to water intrusion remediation, abatement of lead and asbestos, replacement of windows, and ensuring that schools are online to be able to have air conditioning. It would help address the rodent issues that roughly ¾ of our schools face, and invest in good paying cleaning jobs that would help attract and retain additional staff.
$170 million is not a panacea. It won’t bring our schools to equity. But it’s a critical start, and I am encouraged that so many councilmembers and state officials are committed to finding this money, and to finding it this year. I thank you for your work in engaging educators, parents, and community in the process of setting forth our collective priorities. I encourage you to look through the data, and feel free to connect with the PFT if you have any questions.