PFT Staff Representative Hillary Linardopoulos presented School District budget testimony to City Council on May 16, 2019
Good Morning Council President Clarke and member of City Council. My name is Hillary Linardopoulos, and I am on staff at the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. Thank you for the opportunity to testify today, and for remaining focused on prioritizing an investment agenda for Philadelphia’s schools.
While our testimony today is focused on school facilities, I want to make clear that other critical issues remain, including teacher retention and burnout, recruiting and retaining educators of color, oversized classes, teacher vacancies, and school counselor and nurse ratios.
We look forward to discussing and identifying actionable solutions to these concerns with each of you.
Today, I will be discussing the urgent school building crisis that threatens the health and safety of Philly’s students and educators. Our efforts in this space are not new. Since 2017, we have worked in lockstep with Councilmembers as part of the Philly Healthy Schools Initiative. As a founding member of that coalition, it is extremely gratifying to hear that our combined efforts have culminated in the District’s plan to immediately begin to upgrade air conditioning in schools.
I also want to highlight the work of Councilmembers Green and Squilla, who have authored some of the most rigorous lead testing requirements for schools anywhere in the nation.
Councilmember Gym’s tireless work to advocate for air conditioning in schools has lead to real commitments from the District.
The establishment of a facilities task force, under the leadership of Council President Clarke and headed up by Councilmember Quinones-Sanchez is also encouraging.
One of the most critical components of making facilities improvements–in addition to securing financial resources–is the establishment and implementation of oversight mechanisms based on best practice. By collaborating with the School District, we have made significant progress in our efforts to improve procedures and protocol.
Despite these positive developments, we’re still far from where our students need us to be. To provide a context for just how pervasive our facilities problems are, we’ve submitted a number of datasets for your review. I encourage you to look through the Councilmanic district breakdown of school conditions. Allow me to highlight a few key figures.
Let’s take a look at the FCI, or “Facilities Condition Index,” which is a scientific analysis of a school’s overall condition based on a number of factors.
Of the roughly 220 school we have data for, 155 are classified as being in poor or critical condition.
In those 155 schools, more than 88,000 young people and thousands of educators, enter a building each day that puts them at a very real risk of being poisoned.
More than 110,000 students still enter schools where lead and asbestos are present. The Inquirer’s “Toxic Schools” series outlined a number of horrifying tales of students being poisoned by lead at their schools. Stories like Dean Pagan’s, who got lead poisoning sitting at his desk at Comly Elementary is, sadly, not an isolated incident.
Mold, another pervasive environmental hazard, affects roughly 142 of the schools for which we had data.
88,000 students learn in an environment where they are exposed to conditions that threaten their respiratory health and a host of other issues. This problem is only exacerbated by the fact that half our schools either no air conditioning or HVAC systems that don’t function properly.
While the data we provided tells a distressing story, we are making real progress. We are proud to have worked with many of you on establishing the “Fund Our Facilities Coalition.”
The coalition of lawmakers from all levels of government, as well as labor and community partners, was convened by the PFT to not only talk about what the concerns are, but also outlining the resources needed to abate the most urgent needs.
With our environmental scientist Jerry Roseman, we were able to come up with a dollar figure. We can get to a point where our schools are safe, healthy, warm, and dry.
The good news: for just $170 Million, we can invest in good paying cleaning jobs, window replacement, moisture remediation, lead stabilization, and more. Even better news: we are not asking for the full $170 Million from City Council! We are calling for $170 Million from any and all government sources. That means City, State, and Federal.
At the City level, we are in support of efforts to modify the 10-year tax abatement as a means of investing in these critical issues. Since Councilmember Goode’s proposals several years ago, we’ve supported this modification and we encourage Council to get coalesce around making this critical investment happen this year.
It’s true that there is a massive amount of work ahead. But when it comes to improving learning conditions for our children, I think we all agree that no challenge is insurmountable. $170 million will not bring our schools to equity. But it is a realistic figure that represents a critical step forward for all of us.
We look forward to working with you to securing this investment, and in turn, ensuring the health and safety of our schoolchildren and educators.