Street Talk: The reality of budget cuts

Street Talk: The reality of budget cuts
Charles Mostoller

Stephen Flemming paints walls, copes with pediatric medical issues, and knows where to go to buy supplies for his workplace.

Flemming, 32, is a third-grade teacher at the John B. Kelly Elementary School in Germantown.

He has had to paint the walls in his own classroom, tend to ailing kids on the days when there’s no nurse on duty, and buy his own classroom supplies, which so far this school year has cost him $700.

The new governor, Tom Wolf, should meet Flemming, and help a district with more than 142,000 kids who need it.

Wolf has a $2 billion budget problem in Harrisburg, but he might also want to focus on an intractable school problem in our town, a school system starved of hundreds of millions of dollars by Wolf’s predecessor.

So far, the district has eliminated 5,000 jobs, reduced school budgets, cut back on cleaning and maintenance and reduced some academic resources, and there’s still a deficit that could hit $80 million this year.

That’s the view from the top.

Flemming, who loves his job at Kelly, in a neighborhood of mostly well-kept row houses, copes with the street-level realities of teaching every day.

He remembers the first time he laid eyes on room 207, his home for this school year.

“I’m a grown man, and I wanted to cry,” he said. “I really did.”

“It was faded,” he remembers, “I don’t even know what the color was.”

With the help of his sister, and supplies he paid for himself, he painted the room baby blue, a shade hefinds bright and welcoming.

“I don’t control much,” he said, “but I can at least control 207 and the way 207 looks.”

Among the things he can’t control is that the sole school nurse works only three days a week, a fact that makes him feel vulnerable as he deals with things like student nosebleeds.

A student could have something serious, he said, and he has no medical training.

He and other teachers at Kelly cope, too, with cutbacks in the corps of what are called noon-time aides who oversee the school’s 700 kids at lunch. There used to be six or eight aides, now there are four.

Flemming says he wouldn’t give a moment of thought to quitting and going to the suburbs to teach.

These Kelly kids and others like them, he said, need teachers like him, who grew up on the streets of Philadelphia.

The message to the kids, he said, is that if he can make it having been raised on the streets of the city, then they can make it, too.

“They need teachers who love what they do, who care about them,” he said.

So, over to you Gov. Wolf.

Those 142,000 lives must count for something.