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Mayor promises better city tax collections, defends decision to close schools

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

Mayor Nutter’s annual budget address on Thursday, which was initially shouted down by protesters in City Council chambers, called for better collection of taxes and advocacy for increased funding in Harrisburg, but made no promises of additional city revenues for schools this year. Nutter also explained his strong support for school closings and promised to provide safe transit for students to their new schools.

Here is the prepared text of the portion of his speech devoted to the school system:

I also want you to know that I am not satisfied at all with our current efforts to collect taxes and fees owed to the City. It’s not fair to taxpayers who pay and pay while others don’t or won’t.

Last month, we launched a new, multi-faceted Delinquent Tax Collection Strategy.

Technology upgrades will help the Revenue Department to target tax delinquents based on a variety of factors and to determine what methods are most effective to get payment. We will also need support in City Council and the Pennsylvania General Assembly as we pursue new legal authority to collect what is owed and deter future non-payment.

To significantly increase revenue collection, we are establishing a Chief Revenue Collections Officer who will oversee all City collection efforts and craft more efficient methods for collecting revenue. This recommendation came from the FTI Consulting report released last month.

Obviously, when we do a better job collecting taxes, the Philadelphia School District, which is squarely confronting massive fiscal challenges, will have more resources to educate our children.

Last week, Superintendent Hite and the School Reform Commission made the hard decision to close 23 schools. After a substantial budget shortfall in 2012, the District is taking vital steps toward financial stability with school closures and other cuts.

But the District alone can’t solve this problem. As you all know our Administration and City Council have increased funding for schools two years in a row. Now, we need additional support from the State.

I will be lobbying in Harrisburg for critical education reforms – an increase in the basic education subsidy, a funding stream similar to the charter reimbursement and the adoption of a weighted student funding formula. We are not asking for any special treatment from the state. We are asking that Pennsylvania live up to its Constitutional responsibility to provide our children with “a thorough and efficient education.”

Let me return to the school closures issues: it was the tough but proper decision. Now, District students and their parents need our help through the transition process. We need to ensure that young people have safe routes to and from their schools.

And I assure you that City government will work with the School District to expand Safe Corridors. At the receiving schools, the City and School District will coordinate efforts to create a positive, blended culture to build a safe, welcoming environment in every school for every student. Students and teachers must be safe in their schools.

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