Saturday, November 28, 2015

Archive: May, 2011

POSTED: Thursday, May 26, 2011, 6:31 AM

We’ve been remiss not to mention the ongoing debate in Harrisburg over the state budget. To catch you up: Gov. Tom Corbett introduced a $27.3 billion budget that included big, big cuts to education. House Republicans passed a budget that spends the same total amount of money, but shifts a lot of cuts from education to the Department of Public Welfare. The bill now goes to the Senate … after the legislature takes a week off for Memorial Day.

Sorry, we don’t mean to make that the focus here. But that’s a pretty sweet holiday.

The debate in the House included very angry comments from Democrats about the damage of potential cuts. The big issue at the moment is whether to use an anticipated extra $500 million that’s come in through tax collections to a) restore some programs slated to be cut, or b) create a rainy day fund.

Doron Taussig @ 6:31 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Wednesday, May 25, 2011, 9:33 AM

Yesterday, the school district made its big ask of city council – between $75 and $110 million. Today, members of the public have a chance to weigh in on the matter. Should the city help the schools? How much? What should it cut in order to do so?

One thing worth noting about today’s public testimony: Talking to people around Council, we get the sense that Council really doesn’t know what it’s going to do here. It will likely pony up money to help the schools, but it isn’t clear yet on the conditions, or where that money will come from. Which tells us that today’s public testimony has a chance to be more meaningful than usual. People without a plan might be more inclined to listen for a good one.

If you have a good one – or you feel strongly that the schools need help, or simply want to vent anger about things like this – the floor is open starting at 1 p.m. (Yes, we know that is in the middle of the workday. Look, we didn’t schedule it). We’re told Council will not leave until the last speaker has been heard.

Doron Taussig @ 9:33 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Wednesday, May 25, 2011, 7:33 AM
Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, with district CFO Michael Masch, asked Council on Tuesday for up to $110 million to help fill budget gap.

How do you solve a problem like the school district's?

That question has been asked for years, but yesterday the answer was "money": The district had come to City Council to ask the city for help in filling a $629 million shortfall in next year's budget.

It took district leaders four hours, and a closed- door session that included Mayor Nutter, to say how much help they hoped for.

Doron Taussig @ 7:33 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Wednesday, May 25, 2011, 7:27 AM
That's a big sinkhole.

THE PROBLEM: It started out small. Just a little hole at 54th and Pine. It was early February and snow still coated the streets.

No one thought twice about the little opening in the road. But in the following weeks, the hole grew, creeping toward the curb. Eventually, the gutter caved in.

Responding to a complaint, the Water Department installed a large metal plate over the hole in mid-February. But the hole was relentless, and ate into the sidewalk as well.

Juliana Reyes @ 7:27 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Tuesday, May 24, 2011, 7:32 PM

Here’s a brief synopsis of the choices the School District gave to City Council today when it marched into chambers and, after some hemming and hawing, requested between $75 and $110 million in additional funds:

Door Number One: Kiss a lot of money goodbye. Also forfeit control over how that money is spent, and continue to make a new, larger contribution to the School District every year from now on, because of the peculiarities of state law.

Door Number Two: Ditch the kids.

Doron Taussig @ 7:32 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Tuesday, May 24, 2011, 5:00 AM


Required Reading

The state took over Philadelphia’s schools in 2001, and created the School Reform Commission to oversee them. But city sources still make up about 30 percent of school funding ($825 million in 2010).

Unfortunately, the state is reducing what it kicks in this year, and federal stimulus funds are expiring. If Council decides it wants to cover some of the difference, it could do so in several ways:

Increase the property tax. Fifty-five percent of city property tax revenue goes directly to the schools (the rest goes to the city). Council could raise the property tax to send more money to the schools.

Increase the district’s share of the property tax. Council could send a higher percentage of property tax revenue to the district, and reduce the city’s share.

Assume costs. Council could accept the transfer of some costs from the district to city departments. In fact, the district has already said it expects the city to assume $11 million of its expenses.

Just give more. Each year, the city makes a direct contribution to the school district. Mayor Nutter’s budget proposes $39 million. Council could decide to give more.

Reasons to Help

The district’s proposed cuts are hideous. To fill its $629 million gap, the district has said it will have to cut 3,000 jobs, yellow buses and subsidized SEPTA passes for many students, and full-day kindergarten (a move that research shows would be devastating).

Fair is fair. Last year, when the city faced a big deficit of its own, it raised the property tax. But it also lowered the portion of the tax that goes to the schools, so the district didn’t get any more money.

Spending on education works. Under Gov. Rendell, spending on education went way up in Pennsylvania … and so did test scores. Almost 300,000 students have been brought up to grade level in reading and math since 2003.

Think of the children! The cuts impacting schools might be happening at the federal and state level, but it will be Philadelphia’s kids that suffer the consequences in quality of life – and the city that suffers in competitiveness.

Reasons Not to Help

The money’s got to come from somewhere. Philadelphians aren’t exactly jonesing for a tax increase. And if the city transfers money from its own budget, that means some other service, like police or sanitation, has to be cut.

Rewarding bad behavior. Take your pick of recent headlines – the flap over political favoritism in a contract to run Martin Luther King High School is a good start – the district’s leadership hasn’t inspired confidence lately. Are these the right folks to send more money?

Less control. If Council gives a dollar to the city’s general fund, it has a direct say in how that dollar gets spent. If it gives a dollar to the school district, it has less say, though the mayor does have two appointees on the School Reform Commission.

Call the bluff. Is the district really going to end full day kindergarten? Really? Or are administrators trying to scare the city and state into ponying up?

An increase is forever. When the state created the SRC, it was worried the city would try to skimp on school funding, so it banned the city from lowering its contribution to the district. Ever. Which means if the city decides to help fill this one-time gap, it has to keep spending more on schools for years to come.

Today's Lesson: Should the
city give more money
to the School District?

This morning, the School District presents its budget to City Council. It is asking for more money -- at least $50 million. The district is facing a $629 million gap, and has threatened big, scary cuts. Council will have to decide whether to help. Let's review the arguments for and against helping the district

Doron Taussig @ 5:00 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Monday, May 23, 2011, 2:47 PM

Back in March, Help Desk wrote about the troubling lack of fencing between the homes on the 6400 block of Glenmore Avenue and nearby Amtrak train tracks. Amtrak spokeswoman Danelle Hunter recently emailed Help Desk to update us on the status of the fencing:

Unfortunately, Amtrak will not be able to install fencing behind the 6400 block of Glenmore Avenue during Fiscal Year 2011. Recently Congress cut our 2011 Capital Budget by $81 million dollars and one of the effects is that we don't have the funds to do this fencing project. We will include money for this project in our 2012 Capital Budget Request.

Follow us on Twitter and review city services on our sister site, City Howl.

Juliana Reyes @ 2:47 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Monday, May 23, 2011, 10:48 AM

On this week's It's Our Money podcast, Juliana and I debate whether the city should send more money to the school district. I don't want my son to go to a district sorely lacking in resources. And she doesn't want to pay for my kid to go to school.

OK, fine, there's more to it than that. Have a listen, and then vote in our poll.

Follow us on Twitter and review city services on our sister site, City Howl.

Doron Taussig @ 10:48 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
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Every year, city government spends slightly more than $4 billion. Where does all that money come from? More importantly, where does it go? Are we getting the most bang for our tax buck? “It's Our Money” is a joint project between Philadelphia Daily News and WHYY, funded by the William Penn Foundation, designed to answer these questions.

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