Let's responsibly help the School District


Crossposted from YoungPhillyPolitics


During the last few months, the School District has been trying to close a staggering deficit. The Mayor has proposed two different tax increases to help the district--taxes that go directly to the district. The district is requesting $102M. This is roughly the same amount requested in City Council prior to resolution of the full day kindergarten and transpass issues. The administration proposes giving them $66M. It is $66M then that we need to solve for.


I am opposed to taxes that directly go into the Districts coffers (which is the current proposal). The only real accountability we will have over the District is putting money on the City side, not the district side, of the wall and tossing it over only after they have agreed with our priorities. The administration's plan does not do this.


Last week, an Education Accountability Agreement was signed between the City, District, and Commonwealth. It is nice but mostly theatre. Council has been pressing for greater accountability for the past many weeks, including at the District's May 24th budget hearing, in letters to Philadelphia's state legislators, etc. In fact, Councilman Clarke has proposed a mechanism to provide more funding to the District only if additional accountability measures were in place (Councilman Clarke made this proposal a week before the Education Accountability Agreement was signed or shared with Council)--essentially creating an accountability fund.


Throughout Council's budget hearings and meetings with the District this spring, the focus has been on making sure that programs that generate concrete, successful outcomes for kids are preserved. We have focused our efforts and scarce resources on preserving the existing programs that are proven to work – not create or expand new programs. This was again a theme during Friday's day-long hearing, in which I, Councilman Kenney, Councilwoman Sanchez, and others pressed the District on, for example, why it proposed to fund 18 days of summer school at a cost of $23M rather than 180 days of reduced class sizes at a cost of $21M.


With respect to increasing funding to the District, there is a path forward that provides the District with the additional $66M requested by the City last Friday without raising taxes.


• On the city side, the Administration can generate $6M through increased on-street parking rates; $10M through reductions identified during budget hearings that will not impact services; and $30M through reducing the year-end fund balance, which is proposed to be $50M (by way of comparison, the fund balance levels in FY10-14 Five Year Plan approved by PICA were as follows: FY10 = $2.988M; FY11 = $10.960M; FY12 = $31.377M; FY13 = $10.633M; and FY14 = $79.797M) – a total of $46M.


• On the District side, additional savings are possible by: (1) limiting summer school to those students who need the credits to graduate or move on to the next grade (savings of $10M); (2) keeping Promise Academies at their current size rather than expanding them from 7 to 17 schools (savings of $19M) – again, in this period of limited resources, we should be focused on maintaining existing initiatives that we know work for kids (early childhood education, accelerated schools, etc.), not expanding new programs; and (3) trimming some of the remaining fat in operations/administration – for example, the proposed almost $500K increase in the budget of the Communications Office (we think the savings could sum to $10M) – a total of $39M.


Thus, by making hard but not impossible choices, and without raising taxes, we can put on the table $85M to fund priority items at the District -- such as yellow bus service, reduced class sizes, accelerated schools, early childhood education, school nurses, extended day programs, and arts and music being some of the top priorities, which collectively cost $84M.


The education advocates who appeared before Council last Friday, including PCCY, testified that they were agnostic about where the additional funding came from and were, instead, squarely focused on making sure sufficient funding and accountability measures were in place. Parents United testified that there should be no more resources without accountability (don't get me wrong, they want resources).


I stand ready and willing to help the District find the resources it needs to maintain the programs that are working for our children, but I believe we can do so in a manner that improves accountability and avoids taxing our citizens even more than they are already taxed or relying on revenue measures that are untested subject to legal challenge.

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"I ran for office four years ago and I am running today because I love this City... My campaign theme in 2007 and still today - 'beholden to none, accountable to all' - reflects my commitment to be a strong, independent voice for all Philadelphians." - Bill Green