Archive: April, 2013
Dozens of distraught public school parents, teachers, advocates and students pleaded with City Council Tuesday to come up with $60 million in additional local revenue requested by the Philadelphia School District, while lamenting that even with the money, the proposed school budget will be a disaster for the city’s children.
One speaker after another criticized Gov. Corbett and the legislature for reducing state aid to education, and allowing the diversion of public school dollars to charter schools.
“Looking back it seems that in the last ten years our schools have been like a medieval village that has been encircled by an outside army, put under siege and steadily starved of resources and support personnel until we have been weakened for a final assault,” said Ken Derstine, who retired in 2011 after 37 years as a public school teacher, most recently at Meredith Elementary in Queen Village.
Troy Graham @troyjgraham
Schools Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. presented to Council today the “cold, harsh scenarios” facing the district unless the city and state contribute $180 million in new money and the teachers’ union agrees to enough concessions to cover a $304 million budget shortfall.
He said the district would have to axe such fundamentals as athletics, guidance counselors, librarians and summer programs. He noted that he was asking for funds to fill “a hole, a gap.”
“They will not allow us to provide the education that our young Philadelphians deserve,” he said. “It will not allow us to fully invest in our teachers and principals, and improve their working conditions.”
Julia Chapman, an attorney and longtime aide to Michael Nutter, was tapped by the mayor Monday to become chair of the city zoning board, replacing Lynette Brown-Sow, who stepped down last week.
Chapman was chief of staff for Nutter when he was a city councilman from 1995 through 2006 and was his main emissary to City Council, as director of legislative affairs, for the first year after Nutter became mayor.
Nutter credited Chapman with much of the behind-the-scenes work on zoning and development issues that led to a ballot initiative in 2007 to create a Zoning Code Commission, leading to enactment of a new zoning code in December 2011.
Troy Graham @troyjgraham
Council today passed by a 14-3 vote an LGBT equality bill that chief sponsor Councilman James F. Kenney called another step on the road to civil rights, and Philadelphia Gay News Publisher Mark Segal hailed as providing the nation’s strongest LGBT protections.
Kenney said the most important aspect of the bill was a tax incentive for businesses in the city to expand certain health benefits to members of the LBGT community, but the bill also contained provisions to provide gender neutrality on certain city forms, provided for the right of transgender individuals to request gender changes on records and other measures.
Council members Brian J. O’Neill and David Oh, both Republicans, and Bill Green, a Democrat, voted against the bill.
Tom Knox, the wealthy businessman who ran second to Michael Nutter in the 2007 mayoral primary, has registered a political committee, Knox for Mayor, to mount another mayoral campaign in 2015.
“I love this city and am deeply concerned about its condition,” Knox said Thursday in a press release announcing the committee’s registration. “Our economy is stagnant, the level of taxation is a barrier to business, our public education system is in shambles and the level of gun-related violence is unacceptable.”
Knox, 72, spent $10.5 million of his own money on his 2007 effort and was running atop the polls until the last weeks of the campaign. A costumed figure calling himself “Tommy the Loan Shark” began appearing at Knox’s campaign events, raising questions about Knox’s business history, and his opponents targeted Knox’s 19-month experience in government, as a deputy mayor under Ed Rendell.
Mark Zecca, the city Law Department veteran now running for city controller, has sometimes seemed odd-man-out in the three-way Democratic race, all but ignored as incumbent Alan Butkovitz faced off against arch-critic Brett Mandel, who joined the race against Butkovitz in 2009 and has been running ever since.
Zecca unveiled a new strategy against both foes Wednesday night in a debate before the Center City Residents Association, based on a Daily News report about an early-2012 peace parley between Butkovitz and Mandel, set up by state Sen. Larry Farnese, the Democratic leader of Center City’s 8th ward, where Mandel is a committeeman.
Meeting at Farnese’s law firm in February 2012, Butkovitz said he recalled Mandel suggesting two scenarios that would keep the two men from opposing each other in 2013. Alternative #1: Butkovitz decides not to run for re-election in 2013, so he could focus on the 2015 mayoral race. In that event, Mandel would support Butkovitz for mayor if Butkovitz supported Mandel as his successor. Butkovitz had no interest in that proposal, he said, and Mandel proceeded to describe Alternative #2: Butkovitz hires Mandel as one of his three deputy controllers, putting Mandel in position to be named acting controller (a mayoral appointment, choosing between the three deputies) if Butkovitz gets re-elected and resigns to run for mayor in 2015.
A new analysis by the state’s Independent Fiscal Office says the proposed expansion of Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act (known popularly as Obamacare) will dramatically boost the Pennsylvania economy and help the state’s budget rather than hurt it – contrary to the fears of Gov. Corbett, who has so far balked at the expansion, in spite of a federal commitment to pick up the bulk of the costs.
Two Democratic leaders of the state Senate, Jay Costa of Allegheny County and Vincent Hughes of Philadelphia, cited the study and touted the Medicaid expansion Tuesday as a potential source of funds for the ailing Philadelphia School District, among other pressing financial needs statewide.
“The IFO’s report is yet another in the long line of studies and reports that have detailed the benefits of expanding Medicaid,” said Hughes, the minority chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, citing earlier studies by the Rand Corp. and the Pennsylvania Economy League. “We can leverage these dollars to solve problems.”
Troy Graham @troyjgraham
In a meeting this morning with the Inquirer and Daily News editorial boards, Mayor Nutter hailed the continued decline in crime across the city, drawing particular attention to the precipitous drop in homicides in the first quarter of 2013.
Nutter, who was joined by police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey and Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross, cautioned that “a quarter does not make a year,” but noted the trends over his first five years in office have been good.
“Everything is generally in comparison to previous year, previous couple years, trends,” he said. “The first quarter of this year was pretty significantly better than the first quarter of last year, and last year was a disaster.”