Upper Darby Budget Cuts Could Eliminate the Next Tina Fey

Music and arts programs are on the chopping block.

How many miracles can one hill hope for? Just two months ago, in Drexel Hill, Monsignor Bonner and Archbishop Prendergast high schools were saved from an announced closing in dramatic fashion when a community marshaled its resources, prayers and manpower to win an appeal. They called it the “miracle on the hill.”

Now, right around the corner on Bond Road in Drexel Hill, the Upper Darby School District is looking for another miracle. Faced with an expected $4 million shortfall next year, the district is planning on draconian cuts. On the chopping block are libraries, art, music and gym classes, and 57 teachers and over a dozen administrative positions.

District officials put the blame for the cuts on Governor Tom Corbett’s lack of support for public education, No Child Left Behind federal regulations, and the millions it costs to fund charter schools.

The charter schools funding is especially vexing. The school district has been forced to spend $10 million on charter schools over the past five years. It is a state mandate that helps the education of one group of children while hurting others.

Especially troubling are the cuts to the Upper Darby School District’s arts and music programs, one of the finest, if not the finest, in the area. I have been privileged to emcee the annual music gala at Upper Darby High School several times and have been blown away by the talent every year. The district’s music program gave the world singer-songwriters Jim Croce and Todd Rundgren. The arts program gave us actress, writer and comedian Tina Fey.

Other school districts in the area should be watching Upper Darby closely, for what happens there will happen elsewhere. The Governor’s budget cut $421 million from school districts in the area while forcing them to spend money on charter schools. Taxpayers who pay for those schools should have a say in what gets cut and where the money goes. It does seem that schools are unfairly targeted in the budget crunch, even though many taxes exist, in theory, specifically for the schools.

On May 1st at 7:30 p.m., the Upper Darby School Board will present a preliminary budget. Concerned parents and citizens are asked to pack the place. A public hearing is set for May 23rd at 7:30 p.m.; again, an overflow crowd is invited. Governor Corbett is also invited. The safe bet is that he won’t show.

Rallying support for the cause, the “Save the Music in Upper Darby” Facebook page already has nearly 12,000 members. You can sign a petition at SaveUDArts.org.

The hope is to get enough citizens and parents involved in the cause and put pressure on state officials for a new plan. The hope is that the music of Upper Darby will not be silenced. The hope is for yet another miracle on the hill.