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Inquirer Daily News

Archive: June, 2012

POSTED: Wednesday, June 6, 2012, 6:48 AM

Sometimes, when our phone line was particularly quiet, we’d get worried that you had run out of neighborhood problems, and we couldn’t be useful anymore. On the other hand, that’s what we wanted, right? If you stopped calling, it could mean only good things. But then, someone would call to say that dozens of stray cats were camping out in an abandoned RV on a vacant lot. And we’d feel silly. Run out of neighborhood problems? In Philly?

The City Howl Help Desk is closing its doors for now, but we’re going to leave you with some lessons we’ve learned from looking into your quality-of-life complaints these last couple of years. We’ve broken these down into tips for you, and for the city. Thanks for trusting us with your gripes.

For the city

Juliana Reyes @ 6:48 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Tuesday, June 5, 2012, 3:25 PM
A party! (AP)

The last two years, when the city debated property tax hikes, state lawmakers from the Philadelphia area were not major players. But this year, as the mayor and Council consider a property tax reassessment — and the possibility of collecting $94 million from taxpayers for the School District — state lawmakers are all up in the city's business. Four different lawmakers have sought to stop the city from collecting more in property taxes after the reassessment.

One of those lawmakers, state Sen. Larry Farnese, withdrew his proposal to require the city to vote on the reassessment and sending more money to the School District separately, because City Council agreed to do so regardless.

Still, Harrisburg lawmakers have very much crashed the city's property tax party this year. What gives? Listen to this week's It's Our Money podcast to find out.

Holly Otterbein and Doron Taussig @ 3:25 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Tuesday, June 5, 2012, 12:06 PM
SRC chairman Pedro Ramos says commissioners changed their plans after getting public feedback. (AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer)

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.
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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.
When the budget was first released, the SRC planned to vote quickly on a proposal to completely reconfigure the school district by chopping up the district into "achievement networks" of schools, which could be run by outside organizations. The district was also going to pilot an "achievement network" next school year. But that plan, created with the help of the Boston Consulting Group, landed with a thud.
Teachers, unions and community members blasted the idea. They pointed out that the restructuring plan looked eerily similar to others that the Boston Consulting Group thought up for completely different places, like New Orleans and Australia. They questioned how outside groups would be held accountable for running schools. And, speaking of accountability, they wondered why the Boston Consulting Group wasn’t being held up to more public scrutiny.
They voiced these concerns at the schools’ community meetings and budget hearings, which more than 1,500 people attended in May. School district spokesman Fernando Gallard says that attendance at the community meetings has tripled since last year.
What makes the schools’ meetings unusual is that the SRC members didn’t finalize their decisions first and then hold meetings as a feel-good gesture. Instead, they actually acted differently after hearing the angry mob.

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.

About this blog
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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