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SRC issues another statement on the BRT – but we’re not sure why

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

In a day marked by posturing and political one-upmanship, Chairman Robert Archie of the School Reform Commission yesterday issued yet another bland press release about . . . well, I’m not sure what about:

Statement Regarding the Board of Revision of Taxes
Robert L. Archie
School Reform Commission Chairman
May 7, 2009

We agree with the calls for reforming the BRT to make it more efficient,
equitable, and professional. It is essential that the City and The School
District of Philadelphia have a highly credible property tax assessment
agency to ensure that the District has enough resources to achieve the
ambitious goals of its five-year Strategic Plan.

Because of the need for a property tax assessment agency for both the
District and City, the SRC will work together with the City to ensure that
any such agency operates and is funded in a fair, equitable, and
professional way.

We remain committed to our stance that the District will be careful
stewards of the resources that are provided to us; all dollars that we
spend will be focused on ensuring that we are doing what is in the best
interest of the children on Philadelphia.

First, since when is it the SRC’s responsibility to ensure that the BRT – a notorious symbol of the worst of Philadephia politics – operates in a professional way? The District and the SRC should be doing as much as it can to distance itself from this agency, especially given the fact that the SRC itself has been caught in the maelstrom of accusations about corruption and political favoritism.

Second, when everyone from the Mayor to the media to City Council to the public is registering outrage at the abuse of public dollars, wouldn’t you think the School Reform Commission Chair could muster up a modicum of surprise, even the tiniest amount? Instead the SRC Chair’s press releases might as well be about any agency or department in the school system – but certainly not one that had just been cracked open by a three-part investigative series about corruption, influence peddling, and waste, Meanwhile, are we just handing over $4.5 million of our kids’ money without question?

And third, there’s certainly a concern that this blandness acts as a thin cover for the SRC Chair’s seeming intent to discuss this behind closed doors – "the SRC will work together with the City," the press release says. Actually the reaction needed here is more of a public accounting of the BRT dollars.

So while everyone else is poised to take action, it’s interesting that the SRC chooses to step back. Next Monday, the District will go before City Council to defend a $3.2 billion budget that includes $4.5 million for 80 BRT employees, but barely any money for additional librarians or art/music teachers, not enough money for the comprehensive high schools, and not nearly enough money for professional development and quality teacher retention/distribution programs.

I wonder if the District will feel compelled to raise the issue or whether politics will determine that silence is the District’s definition of our children’s "best interests."

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