President Trump prepares to sign a bipartisan overhaul of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, strengthening funding and support for CTE programs across the country.
Although the Philadelphia School District recently cut admission standards at its four CTE schools—sparking a “quality vs. equity” debate—there is some good news on the vocational education front: President Trump is set to sign a bill that will reenergize the $1.1 billion program and help America’s young people enter the work force with the skills they need to succeed.
Congress passed a bipartisan overhaul of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act on Wednesday and sent it for signature to President Donald Trump, who has made career and technical education, or CTE, a priority for his administration.
The $1.1 billion program, last reauthorized in 2006, provides funding for job training and related programs for high school students, many of whom may be seeking postsecondary options other than a four-year college degree, as well as for students in higher education. The Senate bill to revamp Perkins was co-authored by Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., and is called the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act. The House, which passed its own version of a Perkins reauthorization last year, approved CTE reauthorization as amended by the Senate version. The legislation passed via voice vote.
Momentum behind the Perkins legislation has grown in recent weeks, after a lobbying effort by the Trump administration on Capitol Hill that included presidential senior adviser Ivanka Trump, who is Trump’s daughter. The legislation sailed through the Senate education committee last month and was lavished with praise by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
Some highlights of the bill include:
The secretary of education would be barred from dictating states’ CTE assessments or standards. States would also set their own goals under the legislation.
States would have to make “meaningful progress” toward meeting their own goals under the proposed bill.
The legislation creates “core indicators” for the performance of students concentrating in CTE, including their graduation rate and the percentage who continue on to either postsecondary education or advanced training within a certain time frame.
It also requires schools to align career and technical education programs with the needs of the state or local communities.
The reauthorization of the bill has been a priority of the business community as well as America’s teachers’ unions. Interestingly, the American Federation of Teachers and the Council of Chief State School Officers praised the legislation’s progress, including AFT President Randi Weingarten, who’s been lobbying lawmakers to increase spending on CTE.
Brace yourself. Report card mayhem is coming to a school near you.
Recently it was announced that the Philadelphia School District’s new online grade book program, designed by a Minnesota software company called Infinite Campus, will not allow teachers to override final grades when the system opens this week.
According to a memo from District officials:
Teachers will NOT be able to put in overrides for final averages and should keep this in mind when posting. They can see how the Term 4 Posted Grade will affect the final average by changing the Grading Task drop down from “Term Grade” to “Final Grade.” Every class should have a posted percent that matches the score. (This includes P/F courses). Make sure teachers hit POST and then SAVE on every section!! For a refresher, they can watch the Posting Grades video.
You better believe it.
Whether this information was made known in September is unclear, but the fact remains that stripping teachers of the ability to tweak and adjust final grades is mind numbing (if this is indeed the case). For those unaware of the situation, here is a summary of how finals grades will be calculated by the District’s grade book, at least as it appears now from the information available.
First, the difference between a “composite percent” and a “composite grade” must be made clear. A “composite present” is the actual grade the student earned (the mathematical calculation of the quarter grade based on the assignments in the teacher’s grade book). The “composite grade” is the grade that showed up on the students report card for the quarter (which includes grades that were rounded-up or overridden by a teacher). For example, a student’s first quarter “composite percent” might have been a 77, but the teacher may have rounded it up and given an 80 via an “override,” and this 80 would be the student’s “composite grade,” and appear on the report card.
The way it appears the District’s grade book will calculate a student’s final grade this year will be by averaging the composite percent—NOT composite grade—on each of the four quarters. Which means the override grade will not be factored into the final average, only the original base number. So that 80 that the student received on the report card will really go into the system as a 77 and affect the overall final grade by making it lower than anticipated (at least this is how the system is currently computing the grades, according to what is currently on Infinite Campus). Oh, and the teacher can’t override it, which is the real kicker.
As you can imagine, this is going to cause some major headaches for teachers, not to mention students and their parents (and of course principals, who will have to deal with the irate students and parents). The magnitude of the blowback will be both small and large, depending on the situation and how badly the student was misled about his or her grade.
For example, a student may lose little to no points and be none the wiser. If a student’s teacher didn’t round his or her grade up more than a point or two during the first three quarters, the difference will be negligible, and no harm will be done. However, the more points a teacher gave a student via the “override” feature during the first three quarters, the more there will be a disparity between the grades on the first three report cards and the student’s final grade.
Take this situation: a student with an IEP or a 504 plan is putting in an honest effort but still struggling nonetheless. His percentage grade is only a 50 for the first three quarters, but he is making progress, so the teacher gives him a 60—the minimum passing grade—for the first three quarters out of good faith. The student’s final grade will be based on the three 50’s, not the three 60’s. Which means that in order for the student to pass for the year, the teacher will need to give this student a 90 for the fourth quarter to make the percentage come to an average of a 60, which is passing.
Should the student receive a 90 if they are nowhere near that level of achievement? Normally, a teacher in this situation would give the grade the student deserved for the fourth quarter, and tweak the final average according to the individual situation of the student. But since the District’s new grading system doesn’t allow a teacher to override the final average, what is the alternative? Fail the child?
Basically, every single teacher in the Philadelphia School District who was liberal with giving students extra points via the “override” feature during the first three quarters (and all of us has at least one or two students like this, and for very good reasons), is going to be put to the squeeze. Should I let the child fail, or give him or her an outrageously high fourth quarter grade?
And what about the fact that the child was misled the whole year about his or her actual grades? If the “composite percent” was the only true grade that counted toward the final average, what was the purpose of the override feature for the first three quarters? And what if the points added via the override weren’t simply given for free? What if students earned them? For the past 20 years, I’ve added my students’ participation grade—points they earned through engaging in the lessons—directly to the report card at the end of each quarter; many times my best students’ quarter averages go from 88’s to 92’s because of participation. This would mean they’d be robbed of up to 12 points they’ve earned over three quarters because of this new screwy system.
Finally, there’s the case of this working in reverse. What about a student who games the system by getting a 70 percent on the first and second quarter, and then becomes chronically absent for the next five months, not completing a single assignment. As it stands now, because the system doesn’t allow a teacher to give below a 50, and because there’s no override feature for the final grade, this student will pass the course with a 60, and not have learned much in the process.
Why in the world the District would allow students and teachers to be misled for nine months about their grades is beyond comprehension. If the override feature is not available for the final grade—and the grades posted via the override function for the first three quarters don’t count toward the final average—why was the override feature available at all? Seriously? What in God’s name was the point? To mislead and confuse?
Even now I’m hoping the information I’ve received about the District’s fourth quarter grade book is somehow inaccurate, and that the flaws and mind-boggling inconsistencies I’ve mentioned above are the result of some kind of miscommunication, either on my part or the part of the District.
If, however, what I’ve been told is true, brace yourself for some serious fallout from parents and students, especially from the special education department (and their lawyers). This year’s fourth quarter grading will be historic. Get ready for report card mayhem!
District officials are using “equity” as an excuse to fill seats and maximize space.
The Philadelphia School District’s recent decision to cut admission standards at its four career technology education (CTE) schools has sparked debate. The question of “equity versus excellence” has been brought up in the media, and folks on both sides of the issue have voiced their concerns.
The only problem with this debate, though, is that it’s not about equity versus excellence at all; it’s about enrollment versus excellence. There are indeed enrollment issues with the city’s four trade schools. But equity issues? Not at all.
Let’s first look at enrollment. According to data on the Philadelphia School District’s website, Murrell Dobbins had an enrollment last year of 606 students, yet has a building capacity of 900; Jules E. Mastbaum had an enrollment of 754, with a building capacity of 1313; A. Philip Randolph had an enrollment of 518, with a building capacity of 569; and Swenson Arts and Technology had an enrollment of 668, with a building capacity of 875.
Granted, the building capacity numbers may not be totally accurate, as in Swenson’s case; as a teacher at Swenson I know our building can only safely accommodate at most 700 students.
Still, open seats and space are an issue. If you do the math, there are hundreds of open seats in Philadelphia’s trade schools. And from a budgetary standpoint, filling these seats makes sense financially. And how do you fill the seats? One way is through promotion and recruitment—increase interest in CTE programs citywide while keeping in place a minimum level of student accountability and excellence. Another way is to simply ditch the admission standards and pack in anybody and everybody.
The school district chose to do the latter. Why? Because it’s quick and easy. Load-up the schools with any student who wants to apply, regardless of whether or not that student is a good fit for a trade program. And if this hurts the tradition or culture of the school—or sacrifices excellence—so be it.
Of course, the school district can’t sell it to the public like this, so they are hiding behind the idea of “equity”. This is a great strategy. Set it up so it looks like you’re fighting for social justice, and no one can say anything to you. When you’re fighting for social justice, you can do lots of unfair things to lots of people, but it’s okay, because you’re leveling the playing field.
The only problem with this approach is that there are no equity issues when it comes to Philadelphia’s CTE programs. For the record, Dobbins is 89% black, 8% Latino, and 3% other; Mastbaum is 48% black, 44% Latino, 5% white, and 3% other; Swenson is 30% black, 26% Latino, 37% white, and 7% other; and Randolph is 91% black, 7% Latino, and 2% other. These schools also serve high numbers of special education students and economically disadvantaged children in poor neighborhoods; nearly 25% of Swenson students are special education. And of course, these schools serve girls as well as boys—girls and boys who travel from all parts of the city to attend these programs.
The media, as well as school district officials, would have you believe otherwise. The school district is currently citing Pew Charitable Trusts’ recent report as a way to suggest CTE schools are not equitable. Pew states that CTE schools’ admission processes are “complicated” and that they “systematically disadvantage” Latino students, particularly boys. How? Because Latino boys whose credentials qualify them for top schools don’t apply enough to make their numbers proportionate to Philadelphia’s population at large.
Yet Mastbaum and Swenson are 44% and 26% Latino (which are located in neighborhoods with a notable Latino population), and Dobbins and Randolph are 89% and 91% black (in neighborhoods that are predominantly African American). This sure seems equitable to me; interestingly, Pew doesn’t make a fuss about the fact that white girls are not nearly represented enough in any of these CTE schools.
But that’s how the game of “equity” is played—manipulate statistics and throw around phrases like “systematically disadvantaged”. Take WHYY’s article “New lottery system for Philly trade school admissions stokes debate” for example. This article, although it tries to remain objective, is misleading.
An early paragraph in the article states, “By shedding admissions criteria, officials say, these schools can serve all interested students, rather than casting aside those who may have tripped up in seventh or eighth grade.”
Tripped up? See, that’s what the school district wants the public to believe: that middle school kids who get rejected from CTE schools have simply “tripped up” in seventh or eighth grade. But that’s not the reality of the situation. Generally speaking, CTE schools have very reasonable admission standards: students who apply must have at least a “C” average academically, no “unsatisfactory” grades in behavior, and no more than 10 unexcused absences.
In other words, students who get rejected from a CTE school have D’s and F’s, unruly and disruptive behavior, and are chronically truant. This is a far cry from an “oops” or a “trip-up” in middle school.
“This is all about creating access for children and making sure that regardless of where children live they have access to some of our more successful programs,” said superintendent William Hite. “There’s a lot of interest in CTE. We have children on a wait list, we have CTE programs that are not filled.”
Again, this is nonsense: Philadelphia CTE schools accept children from every neighborhood in the city.
District officials want to open the doors wider, by both adding seats at CTE schools and shedding the admissions criteria that, they believe, bar too many motivated students from entry.
“Interest is the criteria,” said Hite. “If children are interested in pursuing cosmetology or building trades or culinary arts…I want the children in those programs.”
He said that he concluded that schools were imposing “barriers to entry” for admission to programs that could actually change students’ attitudes about school.
Bar too many motivated students from entering? Seriously? Does a child with D’s and F’s, who has unruly behavior and is absent dozens of times sound motivated to learn a trade? Would a student like this be willing to get up early and take several buses across the city to go to a special CTE school every day? Should a student like this handle a circular saw in carpentry and a butcher knife in culinary?
Make no mistake: dropping the admission standards of Philadelphia’s trade schools is not about equity, but about enrollment. Instead of filling seats through promotion and recruitment, which would allow CTE schools to keep a minimum standard for admission, the district is taking the easy way out.
We can only hope this new approach won’t sink what’s left of a once-great trade school tradition in Philadelphia.
Obama Education Secretary is right to condemn agitators for verbally assaulting Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and for physically blocking her from entering a D.C. public school.
On Friday afternoon, after Betsy DeVos was physically prevented from entering a Washington D.C. public school and verbally assaulted by a group of agitators (allegations that DeVos was physically assaulted are still being investigated), Arne Duncan tweeted out the following:
Agree or disagree w @BetsyDeVos on any issue, but let’s all agree she really needs to be in public schools. Please let her in.
Duncan, who served as Obama’s Education Secretary for seven years, should be commended for remaining above the fray and calling for civil treatment of DeVos, the newly confirmed United States Secretary of Education. Whether you agree with her stance on education or not, the all-out smear campaign on her background and character is inappropriate.
Vanity Fair film critic Richard Lawson actually likened DeVos to a murderer, tweeting that her policies “will kill children” and lead “queer kids” to “more suicides” because of a lack of access to supports in religious schools.
Interestingly, if you take a closer look at her agenda, you’ll find that many of her views aren’t that different from Arne Duncan’s, which might be why he went out of his way to defend her right to be heard. Duncan’s record as Obama’s education chief reveals he did quite a lot to dismantle traditional public education and attack schoolteachers, turning neighborhood schools into charters and trampling collective bargaining rights in the process.
During his seven year tenure, Duncan fought to:
Use performance pay to compensate teachers based on student performance on standardized tests.
End teacher seniority to give principals the autonomy to pick their own staffs.
Turn “failing” schools into charters.
Overhaul entire staffs of teachers and principals at failing schools.
Reduce suspensions and expulsions to deal with unruly and disruptive students.
Then there was his whole plan to shame teachers into improving performance, endorsing the public release of information about how well individual teachers fare at raising their students’ test scores.
This doesn’t sound like a man who respected teachers’ unions, traditional public education, or educational privacy rights, but other than an occasional editorial in the newspaper, not a whole lot was said about it. The Obama/Duncan “Reform Train” railroaded public schools, students, and teachers from coast to coast, for seven long years. And how many times did raving agitators, holding Black Lives Matter signs, block his entrance into schools?
How many times did Chuck Schumer insist that Obama’s appointment of Duncan to office should “offend every single American man, woman, and child who has benefitted from the public education system in this country,” the way he did of Trump’s appointment of DeVos?
How many times were Duncan’s policies accused of killing children?
Politics as usual.
Take education in Philadelphia, for example. There’s this notion floating around that the appointment of Betsy DeVos marks the end of Philly public schools as we know them, that teachers’ unions—along with collective bargaining—will be irrevocably dismantled. I’ve heard it mentioned, in fact, that Betsy DeVos is the biggest threat to collective bargaining ever.
Dwight Evans wins this title. In the late 1990s, he fought to pass the Pennsylvania Charter School Law, which opened the floodgates for school choice and took millions of dollars away from traditional public schools and pumped them into privately owned charters. Evans also supported Acts 46 and 83, which enabled Harrisburg to take over the Philadelphia School District, and replace the local school board with a state-run School Reform Commission.
It also took away the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers’ right to strike.
Now, fast forward to 2017. The city doesn’t have a local school board, and contract terms can be unilaterally forced on the union by the SRC. The school budget has been slashed by hundreds of millions, and staffs are running on bare bones. Many schools lack adequate nurses and counselors. It’s been over 1,000 days since teachers have had a contract. Their seniority has been cut, their degrees marginalized, and they haven’t received a raise in nearly four years.
Was Dwight Evans ever blocked from entering a school?
No. On the contrary, he’s been continually voted into office by establishment Democrats, many of whom are the same folks throwing a temper tantrum over Betsy “Doomsday” DeVos.
Why isn’t DeVos the biggest threat to collective bargaining to date in Philadelphia? Because under Act 46 and 83, there is no real power to collective bargain. You can’t take away something you don’t technically have.
Yet somehow DeVos remains the ultimate boogiewoman, and has been relentlessly smeared before even being given a chance to develop her vision for American education.
Kudos to Arne Duncan for remaining above the fray and calling for the civil treatment of DeVos. You can agree or disagree with DeVos on any issue, as Duncan stated, but at least know she must be allowed to visit public schools so we can have an appropriate and responsible dialogue.
If you’re thinking of joining BLM’s Action Week in Philadelphia, you should reconsider.
My name is Christopher Paslay, a 20-year veteran of the Philadelphia School District, and I’m officially skipping the Black Lives Matter “Week of Action” planned for Philadelphia public schools. For two decades I’ve been a dedicated English teacher, mentor, and coach, and have written hundreds of articles demanding respect, equality, and justice for our children, communities, and schools.
But I won’t be wearing a BLM button or t-shirt next week, or implementing any BLM curriculum in my English classes (even though I have an M.Ed. in Multicultural Education).
Here are 10 reasons why:
1. Students shouldn’t be shunned for supporting Trump or being Republican. Ironically, although “Diversity” is the first of BLM’s 13 “Guiding Principles,” which states they are committed to “acknowledging, respecting and celebrating differences and commonalities” which include race, religion, age, gender identity, sexual identity, economic status, and immigration status, nowhere in BLM’s 13 Guiding Principles do they acknowledge accepting differing political ideologies. In other words, it doesn’t appear that conservatives and/or Republicans are welcomed by this group.
Perhaps I’m misinterpreting BLM’s website and mission, and if I am, I apologize. However, after reading BLM’s calendar of events for their planned “Week of Action” in Philadelphia, it becomes quite clear that they have no tolerance for political diversity.
In a “kick off event” titled “Courage for Racial Justice in the Era of Trump,” which was scheduled for Friday, January 13, BLM’s discrimination is quite clear. The event description reads, In this time of mass incarceration, mass deportation, anti-Muslim sentiment, profound economic inequality, and the election of Trump, all of our social justice movements are coming together to build powerful resistance to the death culture. Additionally, people of all backgrounds are becoming active for the first time and looking for direction, as many are horrified by what the election of Trump means for our country.
The death culture? Strong words. So it’s obvious this “Week of Action” does not include any Philadelphia teacher, student, parent, or community member that voted for or supports Trump. This is quite interesting, because 105,418 people voted for Trump in the City of Philadelphia. 105,418. And apparently none of these Philadelphians are being made to feel welcome.
2. Students shouldn’t be taught to obsess over race, religion, gender, and sexuality. Sure, teens must be taught not to discriminate (consciously or unconsciously), but BLM’s fixation on race, religion, gender and sexuality is excessive and counterproductive. Teens should be taught to see people as people, and judge them by their character—not by their gender, skin color, etc. Viewing the world through the lens of various isms is unnatural and unhealthy.
For example, the BLM curriculum for Wednesday, 1/25, deals with the themes of “Queer Affirming” and “Trans Affirming,” and aims to teach teens to free themselves “from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking,” and to combat “trans-antagonistic violence.” Seriously? Instead of allowing our teens to naturally interact with one another and develop relationships organically, we’re going to burden them with such intellectual concepts as trans-antagonistic violence?
3. Students don’t need more lessons in rebellion and resistance. One of the central tactics of BLM is resistance and civil disobedience, as is documented by their disruptive (and sometimes destructive) past. Although there is value in learning about political activism, Philadelphia youth should master the skills of teamwork and collaboration before being exposed to the thrills of shutting down a highway via a protest rally or march. Interestingly, BLM’s city-wide MLK march scheduled for Monday, 1/16, calls for a day of “action” and “resistance”.
4. Students shouldn’t be taught to oppose Two-parent families. One of BLM’s 13 Guiding Principles, titled “Black Villages,” states, We are committed to disrupting the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and “villages” that collectively care for one another, and especially “our” children to the degree that mothers, parents and children are comfortable.
Why would BLM want to commit to disrupting the nuclear family when 40 years of educational research proves that children raised in two-parent families have higher academic achievement, better emotional health, and fewer behavioral problems than children born out of wedlock or raised “collectively” in alternative situations? I’m not sure. All I know is that BLM’s curriculum for Thursday, 1/26, addresses their “Black Village” theme which indeed calls for the disruption of nuclear families.
5. Students shouldn’t be taught to demonize those with opposing views. It’s clear that the 105,418 people who voted for Trump in Philadelphia are not accepted by BLM (or by the Caucus of Working Educators, who are co-hosting the “Week of Action”). The same goes for any Philadelphia teacher, student, parent, or community member who voted for Trump or supports him for any number of reasons. But it’s not enough that these Trump supporters and/or Republicans are rejected and ostracized, no; the various policies that they believe in and voted for must be defined as hateful.
“Join us in the necessary work to oppose policies based in hate,” states the itinerary for BLM’s city-wide MLK Day march.
6. Students shouldn’t be taught to glorify repressive dictators who violate humans rights. It’s no secret BLM glorifies Fidel Castro. According to Human Rights Watch, “During Castro’s rule, thousands of Cubans were incarcerated in abysmal prisons, thousands more were harassed and intimidated, and entire generations were denied basic political freedoms. . . . Many of the abusive tactics developed during his time in power – including surveillance, beatings, arbitrary detention, and public acts of repudiation – are still used by the Cuban government.”
What does BLM say about Castro’s recent death? “We are feeling many things as we awaken to a world without Fidel Castro. There is an overwhelming sense of loss, complicated by fear and anxiety. Although no leader is without their flaws, we must push back against the rhetoric of the right and come to the defense of El Comandante,” BLM posted on the internet after his death.
7. Students shouldn’t be taught to value some black lives more than others. BLM’s selective morality is troubling. What are our youth to think when young black lives are taken on a daily basis—mostly by other young black people—and BLM remains silent? When Philly youth die at the hands of gangbangers or drug dealers, and BLM are nowhere to be found? No marches. No rallies. No nothing. Day in, and day out. What are our students to think? That these black lives don’t count? In 2015 alone, nearly 6,000 blacks were killed by other blacks in the United States, and BLM didn’t say a word.
8. Students shouldn’t be taught by a group that was built and perpetuated on false narratives. BLM came to national attention when Michael Brown was reportedly shot and killed in cold blood—kneeling on the ground with his hands up—by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. I say reportedly because after the case was properly investigated, it was discovered that Brown was actually shot after punching Wilson in the face, and trying to take his gun. The Washington Post called the “hands up, don’t shoot” meme one of the biggest lies of 2015.
Another false narrative is the Trayvon Martin killing. After an investigation at the local, state, and federal level—and after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder did all he could to nail Zimmerman on Civil Rights violations—it was discovered that George Zimmerman indeed shot Martin in self-defense . . . after, according to multiple witnesses, Martin knocked Zimmerman to the ground and was pounding his head on the cement. This doesn’t stop BLM from still propagating the myth that Martin was killed in cold blood by an angry white racist, who, by the way, isn’t white but Hispanic. According to the Caucus of Working Educators website which is promoting BLM’s Week of Action, “In 2012, Trayvon Martin was gunned down by George Zimmerman and the victim was posthumously placed on trial for his own murder.”
9. Students shouldn’t be taught by a group that celebrates JoAnn Chesimard, a convicted cop killer. Black Lives Matter co-founders Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi publically praise convicted cop killer JoAnn Chesimard, a.k.a. Assata Shakur, who is currently living in exile in Cuba and wanted by the FBI for the murder of a New Jersey state trooper. Words from a letter Shakur wrote, titled “To My People,” have been recited at BLM meetings. Mumia Abu Jamal, H. Rap Brown, and George and Jonathan Jackson are also convicted cop killers that BLM activists have praised.
10. Students shouldn’t be used as political pawns. What is BLM’s “Week of Action” really about? Growing their organization by indoctrinating our city’s children with their “social justice” curriculum. Curriculum which, at the time of this writing, still doesn’t exist. I’ve looked for it on the internet far and wide—I’ve even clicked on the links provided by the Caucus of Working Educators—but it’s not there.
Perhaps it will be posted soon, so educators have adequate time to vet it. Either way, I won’t be teaching it. Nor will I be wearing the BLM buttons or shirts. I’m going to pass on BLM’s “Action Week,” and if I were a parent of a Philadelphia school student, I’d demand that my child’s teachers and principals pass on it, too.
When beloved high school principal Dominic Rossetti is forced to open a charter school so his uncle Tony, an organized crime boss, can embezzle the money to fund a strip club, Dom is thrown into a humorous yet tragic situation: he is compelled to run his uncle’s bogus charter school while trying to educate Philadelphia’s children.
Part 5 of 25
CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE AUDIO OF PART 5:
While all this was going on at the school, while Dom was working on the accreditation and changing the lives of all the colored kids and helping their moms and dads get involved in their educations and safety, a whole buncha stuff was happening in Dom’s personal life. I told you’s guys a little about the award dinners and his addiction meetings, but I never told about Chastity O’Connell, the broad that the Kid was seeing for nine months and was head over heels for. In my personal opinion, Chastity O’Connell was the whole reason why the Kid got all mixed up wit my brother Tony to begin wit, even though the Kid was man enough in the end to take responsibility for the whole thing hisself.
The Kid met Chastity in the beginning of 2011 at an education conference at the Convention Center in downtown Philly. They was both there to hear some University of Penn professor give a talk about the, ah, inequalities of funding in poor urban school districts. Like I said before, the Kid was big on making sure the coloreds got a fair shot at having a good education and life and such, and this O’Connell chick was the same way. Helping the poor coloreds and Puerto Ricans was kinda what brought the two a them together and helped them bond I guess you could say.
According to what Dom said at our meetings, this broad was all wet for him, at least at first. The Kid was I think 39 years old then, stocky, wit a full head a dark hair; O’Connell was a 31-year-old high school French teacher. Dom said this O’Connell broad was hot for him cause he was a bit older and successful and whatnot, and just loved that he worked at a school that was fulla coloreds. The Kid was all excited about this, all excited; he never had a real, long-term relationship in his whole life and always wanted one. So when this broad went after him, flirted wit him and got his number and started calling his cellphone every friggin night, the Kid was in heaven. She was a genuine piece of ass, so you couldn’t really blame the Kid. She was an attractive brunette wit one a those short bob haircuts, a tattoo of a butterfly on her wrist and an eyebrow ring. She was super friendly and when you was around her you thought she wanted to screw you, but she didn’t, that was just her personality.
She was screwing the Kid, though, no doubt about it. At meetings he, ah . . . what’s the word . . . alluded to it, but never gave details. He was in love wit her and said it wasn’t right for him to go talking about the sex he had wit Chastity—he respected her too much—but it was easy for everybody in our famb’ly and all the guys at the meetings to see she was pumping his brains out. We all thought, Good for the Kid. Let him get some action and clean out his pipes. I vividly remember how happy he was, how he had this rosy glow, an even brighter glow than the one he had when he told the success stories about his students, about how the coloreds could write these crazy good essays and how the slow kids was planting zucchinis in the back garden. And why shouldn’t the Kid have been happy? He was turning around Eisenhower and kicking butt as their principal, improving state test scores and lowering violence and coming down the home stretch wit the accreditation; Eisenhower only had one last audit to pass from the Eastern Association of Academics and Schools. He was also making a good salary, something like $125,000 a year, had rebuilt his credit and was living in a $1,800 a month loft condo in Northern Liberties—complete wit hardwood floors and exposed brick and a big old skylight. He’d decked his place out wit leather couches, oriental throw rugs, and these beautiful oil paintings he bought from local artists who had studios in the neighborhood. On top a that he dressed real sharp, too, in nice suits and sharp leather shoes from Clarks and Bostonian; I guess me and Tony kinda wore off on him a little bit.
His most prized possession, though, was his 2005 Porsche 911 Turbo S., which according to his journal, he bought used in 2007 for $78,000. He parked it across the street from his condo in his reserved parking spot that cost him $150 a month. Now, since I’m talking about the Kid’s Porsche . . . and Chastity O’Connell, I didn’t forget about her . . . I’m gonna talk about the weekend in October of 2011 when he got the title in the mail from Chase Bank that said he was the proud owner a the Porsche. That weekend was the highest point of his life at the time, and, as he’d tell the guys later on at meetings, it was also the lowest.
It was the high point for lots a reasons, but mainly cause the Kid was madly in love wit Chastity and was preparing to propose to her; he’d even went out and spent a wad a cash on a pear-shaped diamond engagement ring set in 18 karat white gold. He was gonna propose to her on the beach at sunset on the night of his best friend Donny’s wedding. There was one sticking point, though—the wedding was in Atlantic City; the Kid had a gambling problem so A.C. prob’ly wasn’t the best place for him to go. Course, it was his best friend getting married, and the Kid was the best man, so there was no way he was gonna miss it. Plus, the Kid hadn’t gambled in almost 14 years, and had a plan in place before he went. He talked about this plan—to stay outta the casinos, point blank— at our meetings the whole week before, ran it by Gordon W., his sponsor, too. Gordon said he didn’t think A.C. would be a problem for the Kid, so long as he knew he could call Gordon on his cellphone at any time, day or night, if he even had the slightest urge to go within ten feet of a casino or place a bet.
So on Friday at noon . . . the Kid took a half day from school . . . he drove his candy apple red Porsche 911 Turbo S. to Atlantic City, radar detector beeping on the dash, travel bag and newly pressed navy twill suit in the backseat, diamond ring in his pocket cause he didn’t trust hisself putting it in his bag. He beat rush hour and made great time, and checked into his room at the Trump Taj Mahal three hours before Donny’s bachelor party was supposed to begin. That was the schedule, see: the bachelor party Friday night wit just the guys, and the wedding Saturday afternoon wit the wives coming up first thing that morning to put on their faces and dresses and get ready. Chastity was coming extra early Saturday so her and the Kid could have a romantic breakfast at Plate, go back to the room to have a little morning delight, shower, toss off their towels and hit the bedroom for round two, shower again . . . this time separately . . . get dressed for real this time, and go to the wedding; that’s at least what the Kid wrote was supposed to happen in his journal.
At the wedding, cause he was the best man, the Kid would have to walk down the aisle wit Donny’s sister, and he would also have to take the ring from the ring bearer and give it to Donny—his best friend since they met playing C.Y.O. football in the fifth grade. The part that made the Kid nervous, besides thinking about proposing to Chastity, was giving the toast at the reception. He’d been working on it for weeks and even asked some of the English teachers at Eisenhower to help him wit the wording. The problem the Kid was having was that every time he sat down to write the toast he got thinking about Chastity and how he was gonna propose to her during Donny’s reception, how he was gonna ask her to come outside for a minute to watch the sunset—not from the boardwalk out back a the Taj but right on the beach. The Kid had it all worked out, see. Him and Chastity would cut outta the reception for a quick second, take off their shoes and socks and walk barefoot across the beach right up to the water, the girl holding her dress up so it wouldn’t get wet, the Kid taking the ring outta his pocket, kneeling down on one knee in the sand and popping the question. When they went back inside, giggling and teary-eyed, the Kid would make a second toast, this time announcing that him and the girl just got engaged.
That’s what the Kid would think about when he tried to write the toast. Luckily, though, one a his best English teachers helped him get it written, and the Kid was ready to let it rip right on cue.
The Kid didn’t get in no trouble at the bachelor party. It was a relatively calm night, cause Donny and the Kid and most a their friends was all in their late 30’s wit real jobs and wives and famb’lies of their own, which meant they was outta shape when it came to partying and drinking and such. There was about a dozen guys who made it down to A.C. that night, and they all met up at this boardwalk pub the Kid had picked out where they had some beers and pizza. Soon the party moved back to the Kid’s hotel room, cause he was the best man, and there they ate chicken wings and drank bottles a Coors Light and watched the baseball playoffs on TV. At around 11:00 p.m., a colored stripper showed up to the room wit some guy wearing a Dallas Cowboys jersey wit the name “Brotha Man” on the back and a gun on his hip . . . he was this broad’s pimp, I guess . . . and she did her thing for an hour and left. At this point all the guys went downstairs to gamble and play the slots except for the Kid, who started cleaning his hotel room up to get it ready for Chastity who was gonna be there at 8:00 the next morning. After this the Kid called Gordon W. just to check in wit him and tell how it was going. The conversation went something like this, according to the Kid’s journal:
“So you made it,” Gordon says to Dom.
“I made it,” the Kid says. He was turning over the ring in his pocket as he talked.
“Good for you,” Gordon says. “See, you hadda plan, and you stuck to it. Congratulations.”
“Thanks.” The Kid pulled the ring outta his pocket, started staring at it. “I’m gonna propose to Chastity tomorrow,” he says all of a sudden. Now, the Kid said he wasn’t planning on telling nobody until Saturday night after the deed was done, but he was too excited and hadda share the news. “I’m gonna do it tomorrow during the reception. I gotta find a way to get Chastity to leave the reception and take a walk on the beach at sunset. Man . . . I’m really nervous. You think I can pull it off?”
“Thanks,” the Kid says, and started feeling nervous like he just jinxed everything. “Thanks, Gordon, thanks for everything. For all your help over the years.”
“Hey, no problem.”
“Look, it’s getting late . . . I got a big day tomorrow . . .”
“Yes you do,” Gordon says.
And the Kid says, “Yeah, well, I’m gonna hang now, but thanks. Tell Jill I said hi, okay?”
“Absolutely. Congrats again, Dom. Call me tomorrow with the good news when it’s official.”
“Will do,” the Kid says.
Then he hung up. Now, I don’t know exactly what he did then, but I bet he prob’ly played wit the ring some more before putting it back in its case, went to the bathroom to brush his teeth, and went to bed. He didn’t write about any a that in his journal, or talk about it at meetings; the entry ended there.
The next day, though, he wrote a journal entry that went on for at least a dozen pages, on and on in this handwriting that was, ah, barely legible. Now, I’m gonna talk about that part, and try to keep as much a the details as possible—at least what I can remember. So the Kid couldn’t sleep that night, not a friggin wink. He kept tossing and turning and getting up to get a drink of water and walk around the room and look outta the window at the ocean and the beach where he was gonna ask Chastity O’Connell to marry him. And when his alarm went off at 7:00 in the morning, his eyes was all red and stingy from not sleeping, but he was excited and didn’t care; it was nothing some coffee and eye drops couldn’t fix.
So he got up and showered and got dressed and took the ring out and put it in his jeans pocket and practiced in his room popping the question, practiced getting down on one knee and all that. Time was moving slow for the Kid, cause he was so excited. He said the next hour felt like a day, and he kept checking his watch, wondering when Chastity was gonna get there. At 8:15 she still wasn’t there, and he figured she’d hit some traffic. At 8:30 he decided to give her a quick call but she didn’t answer her cellphone. At 9:00 he was starting to get worried and called her again, but she still didn’t answer so he left a message: Hey babe. Dom here. Call me when you get this. Love you. Bye. At 10:00 he was frantic and starting to wig out, cause he was sure something bad had happened to her—maybe a car accident or a heart attack or a whatdoyacallit . . . brain embolism . . . and just when he was seriously considering calling Chastity’s mother to see if she knew anything, the Kid’s cellphone rang.
It was Chastity’s name on the caller I.D.
“Hello,” the Kid says. “Chastity?”
There was this long silence—the Kid was clear about this in his journal—and finally Chastity says, “Hey, Dom.”
“Oh my God,” the Kid says, “I was starting to get worried. Where are you?”
“Still at home,” Chastity says. “I didn’t leave yet.”
“You didn’t leave yet? What? Why not?”
And Chastity says, “Cause. I’m not gonna make it to see you today.”
And the Kid says, all alarmed and disappointed, “What? Why not? What’s the matter, babe?”
“Dom,” she says, “we gotta talk.”
And then she just told him straight out, just told the Kid everything, straight out. The Kid didn’t hear what she was saying at first cause his mind lost the ability to concentrate and everything was a blur. He didn’t really hear what she was saying at all until the girl said the words I’m married—that’s when the Kid started listening to what she was saying.
“You’re married?’ the Kid says, and the girl says yeah, she is, she’s been married for three years . . . her husband almost found out about the two a them and she got all freaked out and saw the light and knew it was time to end it . . . end the affair they was having. The girl said she was sorry, so sorry, but there was nothing she could do about it; she still loved her husband and that was it. Dom said he couldn’t remember much else about the call except that it felt like he was outside his body listening to someone else talking, that the whole thing didn’t seem real. The only thing he said he knew was that it was clear that Chastity wasn’t lying, that she was really married and that it was over between the two a them. At that point Dom said his hotel room got all swimmy, that everything lost color and shifted to black-and-white and whatnot, and that he didn’t feel real anymore.
He said he just sat down on the bed for a long time, just sat and stared out in space. He said his cellphone rang and he didn’t answer it. He said there was a block a time he couldn’t remember, that he mighta been laying under the covers on his bed for a bit, and that the phone kept ringing—his cellphone and his room phone. Then there was a knock on his hotel room door, pounding on the door, and he got up to answer it.
It was Donny, and he says, “Yo, bro, where you been, man? Where’s Chastity?”
The Kid said he just made something up, said Chastity got sick or something.
“That sucks,” Donny says, “you okay?”
The Kid just nodded.
“Well it’s time to get ready,” Donny says. “Let’s get dressed and hit the hotel bar for some pregame drinks.”
The Kid said he got dressed in a fog like a robot, put on his suit—one leg then the other, one arm then the other—and tried to act normal. He said he told hisself he hadda act normal so he didn’t frig up Donny’s wedding, and so Dom just put on this big smile and tried not to say much; when people talked to him, he just nodded and smiled. He nodded and smiled and followed Donny down to the hotel bar, let Donny get him a shot and a beer; it was then the Kid started to feel better. The alcohol brought some a the color back to things, though the lobby was still a fog, the Kid said. Other guys was there now, other guys wit their wives. The Kid kept smiling and acting like things was normal, giving hugs and shaking hands. Some people asked where Chastity was, and the Kid said she got this real bad stomach bug and couldn’t make it. Sorry to hear that, they said.
Somehow, the Kid made it through the wedding. He just kept smiling and nodding and drinking a buncha vodka tonics. The Kid wasn’t a big drinker, so he was nice and comfortably, um, numb, like that song by that band, Pink something. The Kid said watching Donny saying his vows made him feel better, but it also made him feel sad and alone. The Kid said that the whole room was fulla people, people that he’d known for years, but for some reason he felt a million miles away, cut off from everybody—all a his buddies—who was proud and happy wit their beautiful wives.
The reception followed the wedding in a big old banquet room in the Taj. The Kid was at the main wedding party table, so no one really noticed that Chastity wasn’t there. The Kid kept ordering drinks and smiling and nodding at everybody. Time was a blur and all of a sudden it was time for Dom to give the toast—which he actually nailed, brought down the house—cause he was an experienced principal who talked in front a people for a living; he said he had no nerves cause he was so lubed-up from the drinks. Everybody stood and clapped, all impressed over his fine speech about how Donny and his new wife Stephanie was soul mates and would spend all these happy years together . . . even Donny’s grandma was in tears, the Kid said . . . and right then the Kid saw his chance to jet and took it, just bolted; he smiled and nodded his way the frig outta the reception, down the hall to the nearest exit doors which led him outside to the boardwalk. The sun was setting, right over the Atlantic Ocean, and this was too much for the Kid. He burst out crying, hard, and walked out on the beach barefoot, holding his shoes in his hand. He stayed there a while, saying he felt completely alone in the universe even though there was moms and dads and little kids flying kites at the edge a the ocean.
The cry cleared his head, the Kid said. He got some a his strength back. He left the beach and put on his shoes and was planning on going up to his room and getting his stuff and checking out right then, but when he put his hand in his pocket to get his key card, he felt the box, the friggin goddamned ring box. Now, this is where the Kid says in his journal that his sad feelings turned to angry feelings—boom, just like that. He said just like that he was mad, mad as you wouldn’t believe. Did that bitch actually say she was married? the Kid asked hisself. She did.
Dom said he knew right there he hadda get rid a that friggin ring, was actually gonna run back on the beach and throw it the frig into the ocean, but he thought better of it. He’d spent a wad a cash on it, and he wasn’t gonna lose all a that money. So without further . . . what’s the word . . . debate, he just went down the boardwalk to the nearest pawn shop and hocked the freakin thing, hocked it for exactly $5,000—which was only half a what he paid for it. Course, it didn’t matter; that was plenty a cash to play wit in the casino, where he’d known he’d end up going all along . . . at least since the phone call wit that lying bitch Chastity.
In Dom went, it wasn’t hard. Right into the Taj, right to the roulette wheel. It was like second nature to him, like no time had passed. He put $200 on black—that’s how he said he was feeling—and lost. Put another $200 on black. Lost again. He was pissed now, super pissed. He said he was gonna put $200 on black until he won, see, cause it all made sense now. It hadda be black, cause that was Chastity, just a black spot, a black, heartless cunt; these is the Kid’s words in his journal, not mine. He lost five more times until he finally won. Course, it didn’t matter, cause he won, see. He was back. He was down $1,200, but he was back. It felt good, the Kid said. It was good to be back. That whole gray fog lifted and everything came into sharp focus wit lots a color. The casino, the Kid said, was beautiful, the colors and sounds of the slots, the clank of coins, the click and snap of the cards being dealt.
He lost more money on roulette—won some but lost more—and then went over to play blackjack, which was where he was gonna get his groove on. The Kid went right to the $100 table, no friggin screwing around. He got hot and won back a buncha his cash and some people came over and started watching, and he was getting comped a buncha drinks. The Kid said he was focused now, in his . . . his zone. He kept playing and lost track a time. He glanced down at the table and somehow, somehow, he was on his last $100 chip; this didn’t make any sense cause he was sure we was actually winning but no, no, no, that was it, the Kid was outta cash.
Course, the Kid thought he was just rusty. He could win it back, he could, see, it was possible. He went over to the casino cashier and bought $1,500 in chips which was the limit on his Visa Gold card; he’d set this limit on his card years ago cause he knew he had a gambling problem. He got fifteen $100 chips and went back to the blackjack game where he’d left off. Things I guess went a little better this time, or so the Kid thought. He played for a while, at least an hour, but somehow, somehow, the same thing happened: he was down to his last chip. He lost it on the next hand and went over to the ATM and this time used his bank card and took out the maximum he could from his checking account, which was $300. Recharged, he played the slots, and more blackjack at a $10 table, and more slots, until somehow, somehow, the $300 was gone.
The Kid was drunk now, he wrote in his journal. A good numb drunk. The high from the gambling was fading, though, and the Kid was, um, obsessed wit chasing it. He left the casino floor and went to his car to get the emergency $20 from the glove compartment. He had it all figured out, see. He’d ride that twenty bucks, you betcha, for all it was worth. He fumbled to get his car keys outta his pocket, finally found them and unlocked his car wit the press of a button. The door to his shiny apple red Porsche popped open and he went to the glove box and opened that up. His mail, the envelops and such that he’d grabbed from the letterbox on his way up to A.C. yesterday afternoon, fell on the floor. The Kid said in his journal that he stared at it real hard cause he’d forgot what it was, but then he remembered. His mail, dah. How dumb a the Kid. Junk mail . . . Men’s Wearhouse circulars and such garbage . . . and, oh yeah, the title to his Porsche, look at that. He stared at the title for a moment, and made his decision, it wasn’t hard. The next thing he knew he was driving his Porsche to the same pawn shop he’d brought the girl’s ring to, the Kid did. He handed the title to the guy behind the counter and said something like, I forget his exact words, “How much can I get for this?”
The guy gave the Kid $35,000. Now it was a pawn, not a sale, so the Kid had 30 days to repay—wit interest—the $35,000 to get his Porsche back. No problem, the Kid figured, which is what he thought at the time and later wrote in his journal. All he hadda do was win back the . . . what was it . . . $6,800 he’d blown on the roulette and blackjack tables and he was home free; he’d walk away even steven, no big deal.
Course, it was a big deal, a big goddamn deal.
The Kid went back to the Taj wit the fat wad a cash in his pocket. He got $10,000 in chips just to start. No sense in changing all the money into chips, since he was gonna just break even and then head back to his room. Now, to just speed through the story here, the Kid basically gambled for hours until he was down to his last $2,000. He’d gotten comped tons a drinks and coupons to breakfast places and even a friggin free room—a suite at the top a the Taj, if you can believe that. At something like 4:00 in the morning, the Kid was all polluted but still going strong, still putting stacks a them $100 chips down on the table. But while this was going on, see, there was this broad kinda standing next to him, this younger broad wit long blond hair and silver platform heels and a long blue dress wit a slit on the side so you could see her legs when she walked. Her cleavage was all showing, Dom wrote, kinda right in his, ah, line a vision.
She was a hooker, a prostitute, the Kid understood. He was drunk but she still caught his eye, he said, got him half hard and excited. She smelled good, that’s what the Kid really remembered. She’d been talking to the Kid and making comments about his bets, wincing when he’d lose a big hand and giving him a little friendly elbow when he won a hand. Dom said he thought she might even be a comp from the Taj, too, no fooling around, the Kid really believed this. Either way, though, the Kid knew he was gonna take her up to his free suite at the top a the Taj and lay her on the bed and bend her slutty feet back behind her ears and pound her mound for hours . . . pound her little blond twat from behind . . . give her a whole buncha kinky orders, tell her to use her tongue and mouth and everything. After all, it was 4:00 in the morning and the Kid was stinking drunk and down almost $40,000. That was the situation, the whole rotten situation.
So the Kid says something like, “You wanna go up to my penthouse suite?”
And the hooker says, “Did you blow all of your money, honey? Or did you save some for having fun?”
“I saved some,” the Kid says. “I got about two grand left.”
And the hooker says, “Okey-dokey,” and then the Kid grabbed his last chips and took the hooker by the arm and the two got in the elevator and went up to Dom’s free hotel room. It doesn’t say in Dom’s journal if they fooled around on the elevator or if they even screwed at all. Personally, I don’t think they did, cause Dom was really drunk and depressed and all that, so I doubt he was ready to do all the things he said he was thinking about doing. The thing I do know, though—what he clearly wrote in his journal—is that when he went into the bathroom to piss, there was a loud thump on his door, and all of a sudden the cops was raiding his hotel room. They came in hollering and telling the Kid and the hooker to put their hands up on their heads and kneel down on the floor.
They handcuffed the Kid, and, what’s the word . . . escorted him down the hall onto the elevator, through the casino and into a squad car. They shoved him, pushing his head down so they could fit him into the back seat a the cop car. They took him to the police station and before tossing him into a holding cell, stripped off all his clothes, threw everything outta his pockets and dumped out the stuff inside his wallet, and even had him bend over for a body cavity search. After that they booked him—took his fingerprints and mug shot. The Kid wrote in his journal that he was so drunk and exhausted he didn’t even care, that he just wanted to lay down and go to sleep, which he did, right on the hard metal cot in the holding cell.
When he woke up, there was a cop telling him he could make a phone call if he wanted.
That was at 10:00 in the morning, the phone call was. Twelve hours later, by 10:00 that night, the Kid was home in his own bed sleeping like a friggin little cherub, his fingerprints and mug shot destroyed, his arrest record wiped clean. In the reserved spot across the street from his condo was parked his candy apple red Porsche 911 Turbo S. Course, this was compliments of me and my brother Tony. See, when the Kid made his phone call he dialed the number of none other than his uncle Manny, which was the smartest thing he coulda done. He called me early that Sunday morning all panicky and frantic saying he was in a real frigged up situation, that he was in some jail in A.C., that he gambled away his Porsche, and that life as he’d known it—his days as the principal a Eisenhower, for one—was over. He told me all a this in one long rambling breath, like he didn’t have much time on the phone.
I hadda tell him to say it again cause I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
“You got locked up?” I says. “You’re in friggin jail now?”
“Yeah,” he says. “You gotta help me, uncle Manny. I need a lawyer. You know anybody I can talk to?”
“You’re in jail? Right now? In A.C.?”
“Fuck. Okay, lemme think about this.” It wasn’t hard to figured it out, though. We had people, a whole mess a people, in A.C. I’d just need to make a few phone calls, most likely starting wit my brother Tony, to see what I could do. I asked the Kid where he was exactly, and he told me he was at the Public Safety Building in a holding cell, and that these scumbag cops strip searched him and took all the stuff outta his pockets and wallet and threw it all over the place. He said they took his picture and finger printed him, too. He had the worst hangover in his entire life, he said, and already puked on the floor.
“Okay,” I says to him. “Just relax. I’m gonna call your uncle Tony. We got some people down there, and I think they can help. But listen, kid. You gotta do one thing for me, okay? You listening?”
“Yeah,” the Kid says. “I’m listening.”
“Good. Now, when you hang up the phone wit me, you gotta tell those scumbag cops that you know Jerry D’Alessandro, understand? I don’t care what these jag-knobs say their gonna do, just tell them you know Jerry.”
“Who’s Jerry D’Alessandro?”
“He’s a friend a your uncle Tony,” I says. “He makes Pete the Gorilla look like a sissy pole-smoker.”
“What if they don’t know this guy Jerry?”
“You see . . . we’re off to a bad start here. Do you want me to help you or not, kid?”
“I want you to help me.”
“Then shut the frig up and do what I says. These douchebag cops will know Jerry, believe me. Everybody down there friggin knows Jerry. When a guy takes a baseball bat to a freakin judge’s head, people don’t forget it. Tell the cops that you know Jerry and Joel Gelles. City Councilman Joel Gelles.”
“Yeah,” I says. “Gelles owes Tony. Big time. So drop Gelles’ name and D’Alessandro’s name. If these cops ask how you know them, just admit that Tony Genitaglia is your uncle. They’ll open their friggin ears and start listening real quick. They may even start treating you wit a little bit a respect. You getting all this, kid?”
“Yeah. I got it.”
“You gonna do what I says?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“You guess?” I says. “You guess? Look, you can do what you want, kid. But you need to make up your mind. While you is wasting time trying to decide the clock is ticking, see. You ever hear a something called ‘police notes’? Well, right now some piss ant newspaper reporter is prob’ly sticking his friggin nose in your business as we speak. Looking for some muck to rake up and stick on the front page. Use your head, kid. If we don’t do something now, forgetaboutit. All those colored kids at that school a yours? Gone. See ya. You won’t be their principal no more. You won’t be a principal nowhere. So you need to figure this out. If you do what I tell you to do, you’ll prob’ly be fine. You gotta slow these pricks down while I make a few phone calls, though. Do we read each other, kid?”
The Kid said he was straight, had his shit together.
“I hope so.”
I hung up the phone wit the Kid and thought he was toast, God’s honest truth. I didn’t think he had the balls to do what I told him. I knew we could take care a most of it, but those newspaper maggots were prob’ly already putting his picture in the Atlantic City Register, and from there the story a the Kid getting caught wit a prostitute would work its way to the pages a the Philadelphia Post. And that would be it for the Kid.
Course, the Kid did do what I told him to do, and that didn’t happen. It almost happened, but it didn’t. A prick police beat writer for the Register actually started a little squib about the Kid’s arrest, but it got squashed by none other than the A.C. police themselves.
So, the Kid does what he’s supposed to do. He tells the cops that he knows Jerry D’Alessandro and Joel Gelles and to top it all off, that Tony was his uncle. In his journal the Kid wrote that the younger cop, the one that had Dom bend over and spread open his asshole, tried to test him to see if it was true, and started shaking his head, saying, “Nice try, buddy. Where’d you hear of those guys, the Internet?”
But the Kid stuck to it, saying, “Tony Genitaglia is my mother’s brother. Her last name is Rossetti, like mine. Look it up. I’m sure you’ll be getting a call from Joel Gelles’s office soon. When he calls, you can tell him how you’s sexually assaulted me and violated my rights.”
About an hour later, before the Kid was arraigned and before the two-paragraph newspaper story went to press, the phone in the police station starts ringing. It was Joel Gelles hisself, my hand on a stack a Bibles. The younger cop answers, and all the Kid heard from the holding cell was, “Yeah. Uh-huh. Yes, Mr. Gelles, he’s here. Yes Mr. Gelles. It must have been a mistake. We’ll take care of it, A.S.A.P.”
The cops was hearing better then. Suddenly, they got some manners, too. They let the Kid outta the holding cell and cleaned him up a bit, wiped the puke off his shirt. They started asking him if he was hungry or thirsty and gave him a can a soda and some Tylenol. They got his personal belongings together—the stuff in his pockets and his wallet—and straightened it out and made it all neat and whatnot. The Kid had $2,000 in casino chips and those magically reappeared outta thin air, poof! They actually apologized to the Kid for the mistake and set him up in a back room wit a leather couch and a flat screen TV and told him to just relax and take it easy, that somebody from Joel Gelles’s office was gonna come and pick him up and take him home. And somebody did—Joel Gelles’s personal driver, if you can believe that. But this guy didn’t take the Kid all the way home, no; the guy drove to the pawn shop to get the Kid’s car outta hock.
“Here’s forty grand,” Gelles’s driver says. “Keep the change. And if anybody comes around asking about this candy apple red Porsche, you never saw it before, understand?”
“What Porsche?” the pawn shop owner says.
And so the Kid’s crazy weekend in A.C. disappeared into thin air.
Retirement costs in Philadelphia will increase fivefold in the next seven years, growing from $73 million in 2011 to $349 million by 2020.
There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza,
There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza,
There’s a hole.
These lyrics, from a traditional children’s folk song that I first heard as a child on Sesame Street, played through my head this week as I thought about the crisis facing the Philadelphia School District.
We have a hole. A giant hole. Not just in terms of cash, but also in terms of resources, staff, and services. Earlier this year, the District laid-off nearly 3,800 workers. As reported by the Notebook in June:
The 3,783 figure includes 676 teachers, 307 secretaries, 283 counselors, 127 assistant principals, 1,202 noontime aides, and 769 supportive services assistants, in addition to smaller numbers of workers in other categories. . . . The School Reform Commission adopted a “doomsday” budget . . . that provides a principal and a core group of classroom teachers for each school and nothing else. It has already said it will lay off all counselors, librarians, art and music teachers, secretaries, and support personnel, including noontime aides, in the schools.
Although about a third of the staff was rehired at the end of August, the fact that the District could do so little with so much money is concerning.
Consider these facts: The Philadelphia School District’s budget for the 2008-09 school year was approximately $2.7 billion. The current budget for the 2013-14 school year is approximately $2.7 billion, although the district may still fall short $100 million plus, depending on the outcome of the negotiations between the School Reform Commission and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.
The question here is how was the District able to run at full strength with $2.7 billion just four short years ago, and be in such dire straights now?
The answer may very well rest with retirement costs, which continue to go up at an alarming rate. According to the Pennsylvania Independent:
On a per-pupil basis, that works out to $900 per pupil in the district for 2011, growing to $2,300 per pupil by 2020.
Robert Costrell, a professor of economics at the University of Arkansas and an author of the report, says that trend is unsustainable.
“We’ve only just begun to see how bad it is going to be,” Costrell said Thursday.
The report examines the pension costs of the Philadelphia School District. Costrell said the financial mess unfolding in Pennsylvania’s largest city is on par with what has been seen recently in Detroit and Chicago. . . .
Because pension costs for public school employees are split between the local and state level in Pennsylvania, the situation in Philadelphia is partially a symptom of the $30 billion unfunded liability in the state’s Public School Employees Retirement System, or PSERS.
Because of that split, the state now picks up about $450 of that $900-per-pupil price tag, but as the costs rise, it will hurt both the district’s and the state’s bottom line.
And when the district spends about $15,000 per pupil — but will soon have to spend $2,000 per pupil on payments to retired district workers — that means fewer dollars are available to cover the actual costs of education.
Lawmakers in Harrisburg must solve the crisis because the state runs the pension system. Little progress has been made toward that goal.
Changes to the pension system approved in 2010 affected only future hires, which does little to affect the pension obligations in the short-term, the report notes.
Since most of the cost growth in the next decade is due to deferred payments of benefits owed to current workers or those who are already retired, changing benefit structure for new employees has little effect, Costrell said.
This news is indeed troubling. As education advocates continue to fight for more funding for city schools—at both the state and local levels—the looming crisis involving pension funding hangs above it all. State funds allocated by Gov. Corbett already make-up 50 percent of the Philadelphia School District’s budget—about $1.3 billion annually—and as pension obligations increase, this may very well cut into money earmarked for education.
Something has got to give, and sacrifices will need to be made. Educators undoubtedly want the best for their students. At the same time, after contributing 7.5 – 10.3 percent of every check to PSERS (Public School Employees Retirement System), they don’t want to see their pension funds go up in smoke.
Which leads to the following question: Will pension reform take place before the District goes bust?
State auditors warned of financial accountability problems at the Philadelphia School District in periodic audits since at least 1987, foreshadowing some of the issues that underpin the crisis in the district as it opens its doors to students Monday.
The district is running a $300 million deficit this year and was only able to ensure it would open its doors on time thanks to an emergency loan secured by the city of Philadelphia in August. The district is receiving more than $1.3 billion in state and federal aid this year.
But the district has had problems tracking students, accounting for state dollars and keeping accurate finances for much of the past two decades, according to audits conducted by the state auditor general’s office. The auditor general is required to audit all 500 school districts in Pennsylvania at least once every four years.
“The district was unable to provide us with the documentation necessary to verify that it correctly reported its membership and attendance data to the Department of Education,” wrote auditors in the most recent review of the Philadelphia School District, which took place in 2011. “A district’s failure to accurately maintain and report this data calls into question the legitimacy and appropriateness of the bulk of its state taxpayer funding.”
The auditors said they reported similar problems in each of the five previous audits of the Philadelphia School District. It was impossible to determine if the district received appropriate state subsidies for more than decade, they wrote. “These findings are particularly disturbing because in those ten years the district has received approximately $9.1 billion of state of state dollars,” they wrote.
Interestingly, these facts have been ignored by most of the Philadelphia education establishment. Advocates continue to rally for more money from the state, but this only addresses the short-term symptoms and not the long-term problem.
Boehm’s article continues:
Repeated phone calls and emails to the school district and the state-run School Reform Commission, which was created to address some of the problems in the district, went unreturned over the past week.
But in 2011, in an official response to the state audit, district officials wrote that the district would pursue steps to address the problems identified in the report.
The district said it had new procedures in place to better track student attendance and state spending, beginning in the 2010-11 school year. Officials also tried to downplay the effect of student enrollment on state subsidies, claiming the inaccurate counts affected only 3 percent of state spending in the district.
In a second response, the auditors expressed skepticism that the district would get its fiscal house in order.
“It is imperative for us to emphasize that we have been citing the district since 1987 for inaccurate collection and reporting of child accounting data,” the auditors wrote. “The commonwealth’s taxpayers deserve to know that every dollar is accurately accounted for, and, to that end, no error rate is acceptable.”
Federal auditors encountered some of the same problems.
In 2010, the U.S. Department of Education’s Inspector General recommended that the Philadelphia School District be labeled a “high risk grantee” after a federal audit found the district did not maintain documentation for training and professional development expenditures.
State auditors said that finding highlighted the “pervasiveness of the district’s recordkeeping issues.”
But the district has continued to get more state funding, even while the financial situation at the district has spiraled downward in recent years.
In trying to deal with the funding mess, the school district laid off about 3,800 employees during the summer and closed 24 school buildings at the recommendation of the School Reform Commission, which cited the district’s declining student enrollment for the decision.
“By not taking action now, we would continue the deterioration of our public schools to the point where they become obsolete to the children that we have sworn to serve,” said Pedro Ramos, chairman of the School Reform Commission, in statement at the time.
Enrollment in the district totals about 190,000 this year, but overall enrollment is down 11 percent since 2008 and 29 percent since 2001.
This year, Philadelphia is slated to receive nearly $984 million in basic education subsidies.
That’s a significant increase in only the past few years. As recently as the 2008-09 budget year, the district received $932 million.
The district is counting on the $50 million loan from the city and another $45 million grant from the state to allow it to continue operating through the end of the year.
But the $50 million loan is tied up in a political struggle between the mayor and the city council, while the $45 million state grant also is on hold for now.
It’s going to take more than a “fair state-funding formula” to save Philly schools.
Tonight at 6:00 pm at the Licacouras Center, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers will learn important updates on the current contract negotiations with the Philadelphia School District and decide what steps to take next. PFT President Jerry Jordan has already proposed having teachers pay more for their health benefits, in addition to taking a pay freeze for one year. The School District, however, wants more. The School Reform Commission is asking for teachers to take pay cuts up to 13% percent for five years, among other things.
The Obama administration provided $45 million in debt forgiveness to Pennsylvania, and both sides are counting on Governor Corbett, who is holding the money hostage as a way to get the PFT to agree to pay cuts, to eventually release the cash to the School District.
The PFT may agree to pay cuts, or they may not. Corbett may give the $45 million to Philly schools, or he may not. In the long run, none of this will keep the Philadelphia School District from collapsing under it’s own weight; tragically, it appears that the PSD is heading the way of Detroit.
Pulitzer Prize winning Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer writes:
If there’s an iron rule in economics, it is Stein’s Law (named after Herb, former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers): “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.”
Detroit, for example, no longer can go on borrowing, spending, raising taxes and dangerously cutting such essential services as street lighting and police protection. So it stops. It goes bust.
Cause of death? Corruption, both legal and illegal, plus a classic case of reactionary liberalism in which the governing Democrats — there’s been no Republican mayor in half a century — simply refused to adapt to the straitened economic circumstances that followed the post-World War II auto boom.
Corruption of the criminal sort was legendary. The former mayor currently serving time engaged in a breathtaking range of fraud, extortion and racketeering. And he didn’t act alone. The legal corruption was the cozy symbiosis of Democratic politicians and powerful unions, especially the public-sector unions that gave money to elect the politicians who negotiated their contracts — with wildly unsustainable health and pension benefits.
When our great industrial competitors were digging out from the rubble of World War II, Detroit’s automakers ruled the world. Their imagined sense of inherent superiority bred complacency. Management grew increasingly bureaucratic and inflexible. Unions felt entitled to the extraordinary wages, benefits and work rules they’d bargained for in the fat years. In time, they all found themselves being overtaken by more efficient, more adaptable, more hungry foreign producers.
The market ultimately forced the car companies into reform, restructuring, the occasional bankruptcy and eventual recovery. The city of Detroit, however, lacking market constraints, just kept overspending — $100 million annually since 2008. The city now has about $19 billion in obligations it has no chance of meeting. So much city revenue had to be diverted to creditors and pensioners there was practically nothing left to run the city. Forty percent of the streetlights don’t work, two-thirds of the parks are closed and emergency police response time averages nearly an hour — if it ever comes at all.
Sound familiar? Here are some similarities between The Philadelphia School District and Detroit:
Philadelphia has been governed by Democrats for half a century—there hasn’t been a Republican mayor in over 60 years. Corruption of the criminal sort has also been legendary. In 2007 Vince Fumo, a Democrat who represented a South Philadelphia district in the Pennsylvania Senate from 1978 to 2008, was the subject of a Federal grand jury that named Fumo in a 137 count indictment, including the misuse of $1 million of state funds and $1 million from his charity for personal and campaign use; he was found guilty in 2009 of all 137 counts (ironically, Fumo just got out last month and is now living in a West Philly halfway house).
This is a common theme in Philadelphia. According to NBC 10:
You don’t have to look far to find other Philadelphia politicians who went to prison on corruption charges and came back for a second act.
In fact, there’s a whole vocabulary about it among city pols. They’ll say somebody “had a problem” and went away. Many of the city’s 69 Democratic ward leaders used to call the federal pen at Allenwood “the 70th Ward” – kind of the way celebrities talk about rehab. It could happen to anybody.
The late state Sen. Henry “Buddy” Cianfrani came back after his prison term and worked as a political consultant and powerbroker for many years. Former City Councilman Jimmy Tayoun, always the entrepreneur, started a political newspaper, the Philadelphia Public Record, which is still going and is read by city and state pols everywhere.
Former U.S. Rep. Michael “Ozzie” Myers, who went down in the Abscam scandal, is still influential in South Philly, where his brother Matthew is a ward leader.
As for current fraud, waste, and abuse: From 2008 to 2011, the Ackerman administration spent nearly $10 billion, with little to show for it other than a detailed audit of the PSD’s financial practices by the IRS (and this doesn’t include the usual antics from the usual suspects, such as Chaka Fattah jr., etc.).
Although Philadelphia schoolteachers are not paid nearly as well as their suburban counterparts (we face harsher working conditions, have less resources, and spend thousands of dollars of our own money), funding teacher pensions has become a legitimate concern. Unfortunately, the baby-boomers who were once contributing to the system are now taking from it, and this has called into question the sustainability of the entire system, prompting many of my generation to ask the question: will our pensions be around in 20 years when we retire?
It is true that Philadelphia public schools are looking eerily like the city of Detroit. Instead of nonworking streetlights they are nonworking computers and heating units; instead of closed parks there are closed schools; and instead of long response times from police and fire fighters, there are long response times from counselors, school security, and nurses—because they are woefully lacking.
Tax, Borrow, Spend
Like Detroit, Philadelphia continues to borrow, spend, and raise taxes.
Counting the previous increases in the parking tax, hotel tax, sales tax and property tax, Nutter is on course to raise taxes all five years he has been in office. . . . Nutter is on course for a tax-hiking legacy unmatched since Mayor Rizzo’s fiscal insanity drove the city to the brink of bankruptcy.
In a city that already had one of the highest overall tax burdens in the country, five years of additional tax hikes could take a generation to undo. The result is an even more uncompetitive city.
Last year alone, the city borrowed $300 million to run the schools, and still faces a $1.1 billion budget deficit over the next five years.
Tragically, the Philadelphia establishment continues to turn a blind eye to this situation, and continues to blame Governor Corbett, who’s been in office less than three years, for the mess they find themselves in. Sure, Corbett’s funding formula has put Philadelphia in a pinch financially (although he’s given Philly Schools nearly $1.3 billion in funds this year alone), but fixing this formula is only a small part of stabilizing the PSD as a whole.
What Philadelphia needs is a paradigm shift—a total change in attitude and culture. At the core of this is the need for everyone—parents, students, teachers, administrators, etc.—to go from passengers to drivers. We need to stop being victims and start being captains of our own ships.
How do we do this? Stop being sheep. Stop groupthink and continuing to vote for the status quo. Embrace individual achievement over stagnating collectivism. Parent your children (that means you, fathers). Pay your property taxes. Get involved in your children’s educations. Hold one another accountable. Meet deadlines. Speak out against corruption (yes, blow the whistle and snitch!)Show up for work, on time. Enforce current policy—gun laws, student discipline, truancy, etc.—before enacting new, unenforceable (dog and pony show) regulations. Give no more than a second chance to anyone.
Nothing is free. There is no perpetual motion machine. Debts and deficits, at the local as well as the federal level, are real and mean something. The fantasy that there exists some unlimited amount of money out there in limbo that some rich, (perhaps racist), miserly politician or one-percenter is hoarding (and that we need to rally or march to extract) is just that—a fantasy. As Philadelphians we need to work together and make do for ourselves. We need to sacrifice, and make do.
A new state-funding formula is just the first step in saving city schools. If we don’t change our culture, the Philadelphia School District will end up just like the Motor City.
Under the Obama administration, the Boy Scouts, the military, and even kindergarten classes have been sexualized, while God and religious freedoms have been trampled.
Last December, when Philadelphia School District officials announced that condom dispensers would be installed outside nurses offices in 22 high schools, I though I’d heard it all. That was until I recently learned that Chicago pubic schools are now mandating sex education for kindergarteners.
Some people may think a five-year old is too young for sex education. Administrators with Chicago Public schools do not. New to the curriculum this year, mandatory sexual and health education for kindergarten classes. . . .
Students will also take a look at the different family structures that exist in today’s society.
“Whether that means there’s two moms at home, everyone’s home life is different, and we introduce the fact that we all have a diverse background,” said [CPS Chief Health Officer Stephanie] Whyte.
How does President Obama feel about sex education at the kindergarten level and exposing 5-year-olds to diverse sexual orientations? In July of 2007, speaking at a Planned Parenthood conference in Washington, he said that sex ed. for kindergarteners “is the right thing to do.”
Promoting the open talk of sex and sexuality is a recurring theme under the Obama administration. Not only does the president support age-appropriate sex education in the early grades, but he also repealed “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” in the military, and stated that openly gay men and boys should be able to join the Boy Scouts.
Now, before I’m vilified as a homophobe, which I’m not (for the record, I support same sex marriage so long as this is legislated at the state level . . . furthermore, my wife and I were married via a Japanese tea ceremony performed by a gay tea master and his partner), I’d like to point out the problem with Obama’s approach with the aforementioned issues, and it is this: kindergarten classes, the military, and the Boy Scouts do not need to be sexualized. In other words, you can be gay, lesbian, bisexual, whatever. This is your personal business, and you can live your life any way you want; America is still a free country (as of now). And you can be open about your sex and sexuality almost anywhere you choose.
There are places, however, where talking about sex and/or openly flaunting your sexual preferences is inappropriate, distracting, and as a whole, counterproductive (and in some cases even dangerous and risqué).
Kindergarten classes, the Boy Scouts, and the military are such places—and as such should be asexual, or sexually neutral. These are not the proper venues to openly promote sex or sexual preferences. Again, Boy Scouts, soldiers, and friends and family of kindergarteners can engage in sex with whomever they so choose, but there is absolutely no need to publically advertise this. This goes for straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered folks all the same. I may be ignorant, but how is the open discussion/display/advertisement of sex and sexual orientation going to benefit soldiers in combat or training situations? Commonsense would dictate that this would be a distraction and impact safety and performance. How is the open discussion/display/advertisement of sex and sexual orientation by Boy Scout Leaders good for children on a camping trip? Ditto for five-year-olds in kindergarten classes (such discussions should be done by parents in the home).
The irony here, of course, is that while Obama is encouraging such sexual openness under the guise of “freedom,” the opposite approach is being taken when it comes to faith and religion. As gays and lesbians are being encouraged to be open and proud of their sexuality in the military, Christian troops and military chaplains are now facing court marshals if they “proselytize” or share their faith “too aggressively.”
In Richland, Washington, a Christian florist was hit with a lawsuit for refusing to accommodate a homosexual wedding. In Kansas, a law was proposed to force churches to host same-sex weddings and receptions.
The most egregious violation of religious freedoms is Obamacare. A 2012 US News and World Report article states:
Monday the Catholic Church filed 12 different federal lawsuits against the administration on behalf of 43 Catholic dioceses and organizations ranging from local Catholic Charities to parish schools, hospitals, and colleges. The lawsuits are in response to last year’s ruling by the Department of Health and Human Services, known as the HHS, which mandates all healthcare plans must provide sterilizations and abortion-inducing contraceptives for free, with an exemption for churches only, not broader religious organizations. Only churches which serve solely the members of the same faith are exempt; religious organizations which serve the general public are not covered—the most narrowly defined “conscience clause” ever adopted under federal law.
In August of 2012, the Democrats even removed the word “God” from their party platform. In a May 2012 speech at the prestigious Roman Catholic Georgetown University, President Obama not only failed to mention Jesus once in his remarks, but also persuaded the school to cover the name of Jesus–IHS–at Gaston Hall where he made the speech; Obama did the same thing in April of 2009 when he delivered remarks on the economy at Georgetown.
In 1882, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche proclaimed God was dead. 130 years later, it appears He is at least slowly dying.
Not to worry, though. As long as religious organizations are forced to cover your birth control (and kindergarteners are well-versed in the dynamics of the homosexual family), all is well in Obama’s America.