PHILADELPHIA, Feb. 11, 2016 – In the auditorium of a Philadelphia elementary school that was forced to send students home because of a boiler explosion that critically injured an employee, Democratic Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Vince Hughes and Sen. Art Haywood today heard school officials confirm that disappearing state investments are causing school infrastructures to crumble across Pennsylvania.
“This crisis is denying 21st century classrooms for our children,” said Sen. Hughes. “Continuing to deny that these crushing problems exist and failing to adequately deliver the investments to fix the problems will hurt generations of Pennsylvanians and the commonwealth itself.”
The hearing was held at the F.S. Edmonds Elementary School, located in Sen. Haywood’s district. In January, a boiler exploded at the school critically injuring an elementary school worker.
“It is extremely troubling to see the conditions of our schools here in Philadelphia,” Sen. Haywood said. “Having an environment that is conducive to learning is so important. We have to look at what kind of conditions are conducive to learning across the commonwealth, and this is a good start.”
Ernie Bennett, a 1201 District Leader, 32BJ, SEIU, told the senators that the critically injured elementary school worker remains in a medically induced coma.
In written testimony, Erie School District officials said it teaches 12,000 students in 18 school buildings that, on average, are 75 years old.
In its schools, Erie said it lacks ADA accessibility, which limits access for many students and is illegal; does not have current technology for students and teachers; is unable to pay for adequate security measures and staff; and it is forced to pack too many students into small classrooms.
“Within these schools, classrooms and related support service spaces are simply inadequate for modern learning. Technology significantly lags behind the curve and the buildings’ mechanical systems are outdated and inefficient. Erie’s public school students need and deserve better,” the district said in its submitted remarks.
In the School District of Philadelphia, the administration’s director of capital programs, Danielle Floyd, said the average age of the buildings that shelter the district’s 130,000 students is 69.5 years.
“We have a 25 year backlog of maintenance issues,” Floyd said. “If we were to repair just the heating systems it would cost $119 million; that’s 75 percent of our total, annual maintenance budget.”
Jerry Roseman, a member of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and an environmental science consultant, said schools have significant problems.
“There’s lead-based paint, mouse-droppings in ventilation systems and mold,” Roseman said.
Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said state and federal lawmakers must begin to address the school infrastructure crisis now.
“The longer these fixes are put off, the more the fixes are going to cost,” DePasquale said during the roundtable discussion. “We are putting our kids at risk” by not working to fix school infrastructures statewide.
In a study released last year (Designing Classrooms to Maximize Student Achievement, http://bbs.sagepub.com/content/1/1/4.abstract), researchers concluded that the more a school building has deteriorated, the less likely students are to achieve.
“Inadequate lighting, noise, low air quality, and deficient heating in the classroom are significantly related to worse student achievement. Over half of U.S. schools have inadequate structural facilities, and students of color and lower income students are more likely to attend schools with inadequate structural facilities,” the study reported.
“That is not what this is supposed to be,” said Sen. Hughes, who promised this will not be the last time this issue will be talked about. “It’s 2016. This is not what we are supposed to be providing to our children. It’s not. We’re doing this with duck tape, we’re doing this with spit to try and hold this whole thing together.”
Other officials who participated in today’s discussion included the School District of Philadelphia’s Matthew Malady, director operations/facilities; Robert Hunter, director of facilities; Mary Filardo, executive director, 21st Century Schools Fund; Jerry Jordan, president, PFT; Susan Gobreski, community schools director, City of Philadelphia; and Maura McInerney, senior staff attorney, Education Law Center.