Organized by grassroots organization Fight for Philly, a small group of residents and community organizers gathered outside William Longstreth Elementary School where they participated in a “math class” designed to help them conceptualize the money they allege was siphoned from Philadelphia schools to bail out banks and other financial institutions.
The class setting complete with classroom chairs and a blackboard, teachers’ assistant, Fight for Philly activist, Joshua Ferris, was dressed in full professorial cap and gown, and used basic math to show how much of an impact bank bailouts have had on local schools such as Longstreth Elementary.
“A group of us decided that we wanted to do an action here in Philadelphia,” Ferris said. “What better way to do it at a school than to hold a classroom outside?”
Ferris noted classrooms are overcrowded and rife with problems created as a result of lack of funding.
“The banks are hurting our schools and the easiest way to show this was through math,” said Ferris, a data analyst for the group.
According to Fight for Philly, banks charged the city’s school district $63 million to cancel contracts this year. This is on top of some $26.6 million in fees paid in previous years. Fight for Philly alleges that using simple arithmetic, one could see that such bailouts cost the district nearly $90 million.
Ferris notes it would cost $350 million to repair all of the schools in Southwest Philadelphia.
“This sounds like a lot,” explained Ferris “but when you start thinking about how much money we gave a bank like Wells Fargo, it’s nothing. Our schools aren’t getting bailed out, but Wells Fargo is.”
If organizers of the class sought to draw local attention to the issue, based on the responses of passersby, they succeeded.
Despite the weather, pedestrians sometimes paused to get a glance or hear what was going on during the makeshift classroom held outside the school. Those in their vehicles or on buses could be seen peering from windows to get a better view as they passed.
Some stopped to make inquiries, even signing the groups’ sign-in sheet to receive additional information in the mail. Ferris acknowledged his pleasure at the community’s response.
“I think the ‘students’ and the community members that came out to the class today were all great,” Ferris said. “It shows a commitment to the neighborhood when you’re willing to come out here on a chilly fall day to do a math class.”
It wasn’t just the members of the community who were educated during the class; some organizers of Fight for Philly’s Southwest chapter also admitted to learning a thing or two during the presentation.
“I really didn’t know what to expect when I came out, but it was very informative,” said Elizabeth Days who said she had no idea that schools lacked such basic supplies as toilet tissue.
“I just could not believe it,” said Days who got involved with the organization after reading materials from the group left on her door.