Friday, April 18, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Rep. Allyson Schwartz: Philly school district should sell off valuable art collection

“Hills of the River” by Walter Emerson Baum, a Bucks County native who was part of the Pennsylvania Impressionist movement. The painting, valued at $38,000, used to be on display at Woodrow Wilson Middle School’s first floor hallway.
“Hills of the River” by Walter Emerson Baum, a Bucks County native who was part of the Pennsylvania Impressionist movement. The painting, valued at $38,000, used to be on display at Woodrow Wilson Middle School’s first floor hallway.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate and U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz urged the School District of Philadelphia on Wednesday to auction off its artwork collection in a bid to reduce the system's growing budget shortfall.

The state-run School Reform Commission two weeks ago rejected a resolution to auction off some of the district's 1,100 artworks, the most valuable of which are sitting in a storage facility in an undisclosed location.

“Philadelphia’s students, families and teachers deserve every available dollar to be put toward classroom learning," Schwartz said. "It is unreasonable for the district to hold on to artwork that could be worth millions while schools don't have nurses, students lack books, and teachers face layoffs. Selling the district’s vast collection of artwork is only one step toward solving the budget crisis facing Philadelphia public schools, but it is an action that should be taken immediately in light of the serious fiscal issues."

"Right now, the district doesn't even know how much this art is worth and where it is all stored," Schwartz said. "This lack of oversight and accountability is unacceptable. It is time to do the right thing for Philadelphia's students."

But activist Helen Gym of Parents United for Public Education said she feels the sale of the artworks is a poorly-planned idea that lacks consensus from school funding advocates.

"I don't think it's a great idea," Gym said. "I think that the art is one of the few assets that the district has. Dumping it in a last-ditch fire sale in which the money is likely to go straight into debt service and charter schools has got to be thought through pretty carefully. I don't know that it really does a lot to achieve what we're trying to achieve, which is significant funding equity."

She said she'd rather see the district identify sources of stable and recurring revenue to help shore up city schools.

"We need to think about things in a little bit more of a strategic manner and be cognizant of what we're trying to accomplish here," she said. "I don't think we have had a clear assessment of the district's assets, and that includes the art."

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