Donald Sterling vs. the racism of school underfunding
In a week dominated by the racist ramblings of L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling, I have watched with interest as the world has rushed to condemn him.
Sterling’s comments, recorded by V. Stiviano, the Afro-Latina woman with whom he was cheating on his wife, were centered around Stiviano’s habit of posting pictures on social media with African Americans.
“I’m just saying, in your lousy…Instagrams, you don’t have to have yourself with, walking with black people,” Sterling told Stiviano, in reference to a photo she posted with NBA legend Magic Johnson. He later added that he did not want Stiviano to bring Magic Johnson, or other black people to Clippers games.
The comments, initially posted on TMZ.com, led to Sterling’s lifetime ban from the NBA, and could result in his being forced to sell the team. Great for the NBA, but it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans for me.
I have said on the record that I’m not angry with Donald Sterling, whose long record of allegedly racist behavior is well documented.
I’m angry with the rest of us. I’m angry because we are content to pretend that Sterling’s ban from the NBA and a forced sale of the team will solve the issue of racism. I’m angry because those who harbor similar views are now pointing to Sterling as the racist bogeyman. I’m angry because our rush to condemn Sterling has led us to ignore much more important matters, including the fact that the Philadelphia public schools are facing a $216 million budget shortfall that will once again leave our kids in the lurch.
Meanwhile in Philadelphia...
On Friday, before TMZ released the audio tape of Sterling’s comments, Philadelphia Schools Superintendent William Hite was announcing at a press conference that the school district needs a “significant investment from our funding partners” in order to maintain what is already an insufficient level of education.
He backed that assertion with the release of the District’s proposed budget for 2014-15, which laid out the reality of the District’s finances in black and white.
In a statement released along with the proposed budget, Hite said things were grim. “From limited revenue growth to increasing health and retirement costs, we are in dire financial circumstances. Our funding challenges are real,” Hite said. “Without significantly more investments, the District may find itself reversing gains from recent years, decelerating student progress instead of accelerating our Action Plan v.2.0 goals.”
The statement went on to say that, given the deep cuts to services and programs over the last year, there are few remaining areas that will not substantially impact the District’s ability to deliver on the right of all students to an excellent education. Further reductions would come from school and administrative supports, increased class sizes and more than 1,000 staff layoffs.
Hite added, “Short of the $216 million our schools will go from insufficient to just empty shells that do not represent what I would consider a functioning school.”
Angry with the wrong crowd
Philadelphia’s City Council will fight it out to determine how the funding shortfall will be met. Council President Darrell Clarke has said sales tax revenue that was initially planned to boost the pension fund could be split between pensions and schools, but officials haven’t identified a source for the remaining $96.2 million required to close the budget gap. Without it, the District would have to lay off 1,000 employees, and even more jobs could be lost without the $120 million from sales tax revenue.
In District schools that are 52.8 percent African American, 14 percent Latino, and 8.1 percent Asian, the perpetual funding shortfall is more of an affront to my racial sensitivities than the ramblings of a bitter old man. Yet we remain focused on the nonsensical rush to punish Donald Sterling, while refusing to mete out punishment for our children's underfunded schools.
But even as I watch the fascinating back and forth on the Sterling debacle, and the deafening silence on our schools, I remain hopeful that we will somehow come to our senses.
I hope that the celebrities who are lining up as potential buyers for the L.A. Clippers will spend a portion of their millions to fund our schools. I hope that the media that line up to condemn Sterling will line up to speak out for our schools. I hope the parents whose children suffer under inadequate education hit the streets to demand better schools.
We can no longer afford to send our children to empty shells. There is nothing more racist than that.
Read more on Donald Sterling at Jones's website.