This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
On May 19, Philadelphians will hit the polls to winnow the field of City Council at-large candidates. Out of 28 declared candidates, only seven will be elected in November (including at least two from a minority party). Each party can run five candidates in the general election. The Notebook reached out to the candidates, asking their opinions on the election’s most gripping issue: education.
Where do candidates stand on the School Reform Commission’s decision to approve five new charter school applications? Whose job is it to find more money for public schools, the city’s or the District’s? Absent an agreement with the teachers’ union, do they think the SRC is right to pursue concessions through the courts? And finally, what ideas do they have for how the District can fix its financial problems?
Over the next few weeks, we will post statements from City Council candidates responding to these prompts in the order we received them. Today’s statement comes from Democrat Derek Green, an attorney and longtime aide to City Councilwoman Marian B. Tasco. He is a graduate of Temple University School of Law.
Responses were edited for length and clarity.
Considering the School District’s significant deficit, I do not believe that the School Reform Commission should be approving additional charter school applications. One of the principal ways that the School District got into its current fiscal crisis was former Gov. Corbett’s decision to eliminate the charter school reimbursement. This decision created a significant budget shortfall for the School District and, as a member of City Council, I will lobby to change this policy.
Both the city and the School District should be responsible for finding more money for public schools. Considering the School District’s fiscal crisis, the city should aggressively seek additional revenue sources that should be dedicated for education and not allocated for the city’s general fund. In addition, the School District should continue to become a better steward of public funds and look for opportunities to reduce non-instructional expenses that will provide more money for the District without sacrificing the ability to give students a quality education.
The SRC should not be able to use the court system as a way to pursue contract concessions with the teachers’ union. As the son of a retired public school teacher, I remember how hard educators fought for their contract benefits during the labor strikes of the ’80s. Further, I also know how hard teachers work to educate our children. As a student at Temple Law School, I had the opportunity to teach part-time at Olney High School. During this time, I saw firsthand how teachers like my mother worked, in spite of daunting challenges, to give the gift of learning to the children of our city.
In order to resolve the School District’s fiscal distress, a number of actions must be taken. One, the city must do a better job in collecting any revenue that will be used to fund public education. For example, the city must decrease the amount of delinquent real estate taxes, especially from commercial property owners, absentee property owners, and property owners that live outside the city.
Two, the city should use payments in lieu of taxes (i.e. PILOTS) to raise additional revenue from nonprofit corporations that are exempt from paying real estate taxes.
Three, the School District needs additional funding from Harrisburg. Under Article 3, Section 14 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, “the General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.” By comparing the amount of state funding for the School District and Philadelphia’s graduation and dropout rates to that of comparable cities throughout the nation, it is clear that the standard of our own state constitution is not being met. As a member of City Council, I will work with regional local officials to form a coalition to lobby Harrisburg for a fair, weighted funding formula that provides more state funds for Philadelphia’s public school children, but also for children throughout Pennsylvania.