By Bach Tong
Acting Superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia, Dr. Leroy Nunery, visited Science Leadership Academy (SLA) on Tuesday December 6, 2011 to discuss how budget issues in the District will affect the future of the school.
In March, the District announced a $629 million cut from its $3.1 billion budget due to the lost from revenue from state funding that was proposed by Governor Corbett. SLA shared approximately $400,000.
In October, another $39 million cut was made from the shrunken budget . In an email to principals signed by Dr. Nunery and the District’s Chief Financial Officer Michael Masch, the District outlined that schools’ operating budget will be cut 1.4% on average.
The event was advertised as “What is the future of SLA?” and was organized in response to concerns about the future of the school building. The event began at 6:30 pm in the cafe of SLA, with more than 120 parents present.
The speakers included Principal Chris Lehmann, the President and CEO of The Franklin Institute Dennis Wint, Dr. Nunery, and District’s Assistant Director to Chief Business Office Danielle Floyd.
According to Mr. Lehmann, SLA shares a $36,600 in total cut, exactly 1.4% in the school operating budget. This cut would wipe out extra curricular activities, extra hours for security (School Police Offcier Cynthia Byrd), and school supplies.
But on the bright side, the “Rocket Fuel Campaign”, which launched last spring by the Home and School Association, fund raised $38,000.
“Ultimately what we want to do is gather a couple of parents and some of your staff people to go to a committee”, said Dr. Nunery, “and talk about what the options are”
Dr. Nunery explicitly addressed the future building options of the school. The current building lease costs more than $1 million a year.
This amount does not come out of SLA’s school budget, but from the central district office. Compared to schools that are housed in district-owned buildings, the current home of SLA is a major financial drain on the district.
The lease of the current building will expire at the end of the school year in 2016. Philadelphia Management, who is the landlord, has begun a construction project of an apartment on the 4th floor since the beginning of the school year. This project has caused a major distraction for learning at SLA recently due to the amount of noise.
In discussing the options, Floyd said that Philadelphia Management has given three options. “The first that they would continue to build out the apartments”, in which case there will be separate entrance, cameras, and stairwell.
The second option was to “contingent on a lease for another ten years,” said Floyd. The third option was that “they would stop construction and would charge us a per-square foot cost based on what has already been finished”, in which the cost would be $25 per square foot, for about 6000 square foot.
However, Mr. Lehmann commented that “if [they] put apartments on the fourth floor, [they] are sending a message that [they] do not want us here”.
It would take at least 18 months to relocate to SLA’s new home, including time of research for a new space, paper work, refurbishing the building to accomodate learning. “I don’t want us in a building that doesn’t match our pedagogy” said Mr. Lehmann.
On the other hand, the agreement of partnership between the Franklin Institute and the District will also expired around the same time.
“It takes 4 years to apply for a new one,” said Dr. Wint, the President and CEO of the Franklin Institute.
“The partnership with the [Franklin] Institute really becomes a major drive here.” Said Dr. Nunery, “location in this case really does matter”. The Please Touch Museum old space was brought up as a possibility, but too costly to be a reality.
“I would like the engage in the discussion of a five year extension, not a ten,” Mr. Lehmann suggested. “I think that gives the district time to get over the hump of this insanity.”
Walking out of the meeting, parent Ann Bigler said that “the process is confusing”. However, she thought that “the meeting was informative and helpful.”
The future of SLA’s location remains to be seen. The school will be safe at least until 2016.
“SLA could realize its original vision, which is a teaching hospital for Philadelphia.” Mr. Lehmann concluded the meeting. “The problem is we need the facility that matches that. We’re not going to get that right now.”
Dr. Nunery agreed that SLA should be replicated as a model.
Besides the long term goal for a new home, SLA’s short term needs will be dealing with the budget cut. The school needs financial and supplies donations to humans energy to fundraise and volunteer at events like EduCon.
“We need all the help that you are able to spare,” said Mr. Lehmann.