It's Our Money
Screaming and yelling is not unknown at School Reform Commission meetings, but last week’s meeting was loud by any standard. The SRC met and approved a bare-bones budget that few are happy with, and parents and activists weren’t shy about saying how little they thought of a budget that leaves many schools without nurses, police officers and office supplies; could lead to mass layoffs; and counts on more than $200 million in borrowing, even though officials say the school district has already borrowed more than it should.
It’s a budget so unpleasant that even school leaders say it’s inadequate, and more than 50 parent organizations signed on to a "vote of no-confidence" against it.
But there is one big difference in how the SRC is conducting its business that represents a departure from past commissions: The SRC seems to be listening.
Today, Council blew its May 31 deadline to pass a budget.
“We’re not ready,” said Council President Darrell Clarke. “It’s more important to get a budget that reflects the needs of the citizens of the city of Philadelphia, of the School District of Philadelphia, as opposed to a deadline that was established in probably 1954.”
Council must pass a budget by May 31, according to the City Charter. Council also missed this deadline last year. But the drop-dead deadline is June 30. If a budget isn’t passed by then, parts of city government would need to be shut down.
As if Mayor Nutter's plan to fix Philadelphia's property-tax system weren't complicated enough, state Rep. Michael O'Brien now says it would violate a Pennsylvania law. He dropped this bomb at a state hearing today on Nutter's Actual Value Initiative, or AVI.
City finance director Rob Dubow says the provision in question doesn't apply to Philadelphia.
At the hearing, state Rep. Rosita Youngblood also complained that Nutter doesn't talk to state lawmakers enough about AVI and other issues.
Do you have strong feelings about public school funding and Mayor Nutter’s property-tax overhaul? Do you yearn to express your views?
Of course you do. Who doesn’t?
This week, there are several budget hearings and events where community members can have their say about these issues. Or, if they prefer, where they can sit back and listen to citizens and elected officials debate them. Here’s this week in AVI and schools:
AS IF THE CITY’S attempt to update its property-tax system wasn’t enough of a mess — the Actual Value Initiative to have property-tax bills bear some relation to the actual value of property has been marred by confusion and delayed by uncertainty — we now have the specter of Harrisburg trying to "help."
We say "help" because recent proposals by state Sen. Larry Farnese and state Rep. Brendan Boyle, while well-intentioned, are the kind of help you might get from a squeegee man: You didn’t ask for it, and it usually leaves the windshield muddier than ever.
Farnese and Boyle are upset about Mayor Nutter’s proposal to collect $94 million more in property taxes through AVI for the cash-strapped school district. The administration refuses to call this a "tax increase" because, it says, the city will just capture an increase in property value that it hasn’t collected for years.
JONATHAN Katzenbach has a love-hate relationship with his neighborhood basketball court. Katzenbach, who lives across from the court at Marian Anderson Recreation Center in the Graduate Hospital area, says he loves having the court so close. He’s shot some hoops there in the past.
But when the sun goes down, it’s a different story. The gate to the court has been broken for months — half of the gate’s door is missing — and there are large gaps in the surrounding fence. So people enter and play at all hours.
Katzenbach says he’s been awakened numerous times at 3 or 4 a.m. from the sounds of people on the courts. Kids and adults both use the courts past midnight, he says, and it’s much more frequent in warm weather. When it happens, he calls the cops.
Yesterday, Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sanchez introduced a resolution calling on the School Reform Commission to reach a settlement with the blue-collar union SEIU Local 32BJ District — or else Council will delay its decision on school funding.
The resolution, which 10 other Council members have signalled they support, also demands more funding from Harrisburg.
Council is currently mulling Mayor Nutter's plan to give an additional $94 million to the school district while overhauling the city's property-tax system.
For years, critics have said that Philadelphia's court system does a lousy job of getting convicts to pay restitution for victims of crimes. In the story below, read about how five victims have discovered just how true that can be — even when city workers were the perpetrators.
And listen to the story on WHYY here.
Nine city workers who were supposed to be cleaning up neighborhoods instead ransacked homes in Northeast Philadelphia between 2006 and 2008, stealing cash, guns, family heirlooms, furniture and TVs while on the job. Last year they pleaded guilty to the crime.