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SRC chair wants BRT employees off the payroll

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

The SRC Chair, Robert Archie, today issued the statement below, representing a new stance on the 80 patronage employees from the Board of Revision of Taxes who sit on the School District payroll, at a projected cost of $4.56 million for the coming school year. He now very politely says "it would be preferable and much more efficient" to put these employees on the city’s payroll with the rest of the BRT and have the District pay the city a "service fee."

So there’s no promise of saving the District any money through this proposed action, but Archie’s statement also politely suggests that it would be great if the city or state would relieve the District of some or all of the financial burden for these clerk positions.

We posted Archie’s first and second statements about the BRT last week.

So it’s possible that the District will finally be able to shed at least some portion of this financial obligation, though Archie is at pains not to pass the problem off to the mayor.

STATEMENT BY SCHOOL REFORM COMMISSION CHAIRMAN ROBERT L. ARCHIE:

THE SCHOOL DISTRICT OF PHILADELPHIA AND THE BOARD OF REVISION OF TAXES

The City of Philadelphia and the School District of Philadelphia both receive major revenue from Philadelphia’s property tax. In the case of the School District, annual revenues from the property tax come to over $800 million a year, about 28% of the District’s total annual revenues.

Property taxes cannot be levied unless property values are assessed. Right now, under state and city law the entity designated to perform these assessments in Philadelphia is the Board of Revision of Taxes (BRT).

The School Reform Commission and the School District of Philadelphia do not have power to change, replace or dissolve the BRT. But we support and stand ready to provide our full cooperation and assistance to the Mayor of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia City Council, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in making Philadelphia’s property tax assessment agency more efficient, more professional, more transparent, and more accountable.

At present, the School District provides the BRT with $4.5 million in annual funding, and for every dollar the District spends to support the BRT, the District receives $136 in property tax revenues. Since the School District receives 60 percent of Philadelphia’s property tax revenue every year, it is not inappropriate for the SDP to pay some of the costs of operating Philadelphia’s property tax assessment agency.

If the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the City of Philadelphia have the capacity to operate the BRT without any financial assistance from the School District, or with a lower level of assistance, that would be welcome news for the District, as the District needs to devote more of its resources directly to its core mission of raising student achievement levels.

At the same time, it would be irresponsible for the District to unilaterally eliminate or substantially reduce its financial support for the BRT if this action might jeopardize the District’s ability to promptly and fully collect its share of Philadelphia’s property tax revenues.

At present, the School District provides its financial support for the BRT by placing BRT employees on the District’s payroll and then paying the salaries and benefits of those employees. This is not an efficient arrangement, and the District supports the consolidation of the entire BRT budget and workforce within the City of Philadelphia’s budget. It would be preferable and much more efficient if the District provided its support for Philadelphia’s property tax assessment agency through a service fee or some other comparable, mutually-agreeable method worked out between the City of Philadelphia and the School District.

The District stands ready to conduct a collaborative review with the City Administration of the BRT’s current operating budget and organizational structure. We share the City government’s conviction that Philadelphia’s property tax assessment agency can and should become more efficient, more professional, more transparent, and more accountable. Our collaborative review could provide all concerned with some concrete ideas as to how these important goals could be realized.

We urge the BRT to cooperate with Mayor Nutter’s administration and the School District in this collaborative review so we can give the public the greatest possible confidence that the property tax assessment process in Philadelphia is on its way to becoming more fair, more equitable, and more prudently managed.

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