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SRC You Later, Part II


Now for the hard part: finding the money.

You’ve got to hand it to Mayor Kenney, he does like to lay out a bold vision for the future of our city:  “I have a vision of a child that is leaving a quality pre-K in June and entering kindergarten in September; who is prepared to progress through 8th grade and do well; and then make a choice to go to a regular high school, an accelerated high school, CTE school, and do well there; and then have the opportunity to go to college or to graduate school.”

P. T. Barnum had vision too: “There is a sucker born every minute.”

The mayor’s decision last month to take over the responsibilities of the School Reform Commission admittedly caught us by surprise, given that just a week before he was prevaricating on such a move.  But take over he did, which left those with any institutional memory in the room sounding the warning bells. None more so than the lone dissenting vote on the takeover, former SRC Chair, Bill Green. He wanted the District to hold a gun to Mayor Kenney’s head to extort $150 million in additional local funding to close a projected $700 million funding gap, projected over the next five years.  Of course, anybody who knows anything about Jimmy Kenney knows that he doesn’t respond well to folks who get in his face.

Into the fray jumps state senator and ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, Vincent Hughes, channeling his best Cuba Gooding, Jr. in “Jerry Maguire,” “Damn it, show me the money. It is about the money. Don’t get distracted.” 

Raising one’s voice to the ruling crowd in Harrisburg has never been less a winning strategy for funding our schools than it is today.  The votes simply do not exist in a Republican-controlled legislature to close our projected school deficits.

Then, as reported by The Notebook, there is the more reasonable voice of City Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez with the all-of-the-above approach: “‘Everything has to be on the table’ in the search for more revenue for schools. 

We've done commercial lien sales, PILOTS, everything has to be on the table," she said, including ‘performance-based budgeting’ and other areas to find savings.” 

In a town where the mere mention of PILOTS (Payments In Lieu of Taxes) make some of our biggest employers — university and health system presidents — reach for the pitchforks and torches, this seems a bit of a stretch.  Still, give Quiñones-Sánchez credit for trying. 

Then there is one of our newest council members, condo king Alan Domb, with his own funding formula, which we might be more enthusiastic about if it didn’t seem so self serving.

As Domb explains it: “My proposal mirrors a similar collection strategy that has been successful in other municipalities, most notably in New York.

My plan could potentially yield tens of millions of dollars through the securitization of tax liens and many more millions through an ongoing collection process.”

 While Domb insists it is “intended to go after individuals who choose not to pay, not those who cannot afford to pay”, it’s hard not to look at the condo king and wonder what’s in it for him and his industry. Still, we will take our skeptical eyes and look the other way if it can provide real, new, dedicated revenue to our school district.

Our money, so to speak, is on the State Supreme Court, who voted last September to hear a case designed to fundamentally change the state education funding formula.  The case arises out of the legislature’s decision to make the funding formula more equitable between rich and poor districts, but then only applying that formula to a small part of the state education budget.

(Editor’s Note:  For those not familiar with our stance on the popular election of judges, there will be no greater endorsement for this practice to continue in Pennsylvania than if the, now Democrat controlled court, finally addresses the absurd imbalance in funding between wealthy and poor school districts across the Commonwealth.)

The long-term strength of our school district may not be so much in the hands of Mayor Kenney or City Council President Clarke as it is in the hands of Justices Todd, Wecht, Donahue and Dougherty.

 

 

 

 

SRC You Later, Part II

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