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City Council candidates’ views on education: James Williams

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?

We are posting statements from City Council candidates responding to these prompts in the order we received them. Today’s statement comes from Republican James Williams, head men’s cross-country and track coach at Cheyney University. He is a graduate of Cabrini College.

Responses were edited for length and clarity.

I spent six years in the School District as a "therapeutic staff support" worker and over 15 years recruiting in the District as a collegiate coach. With that being said, I understand the challenges that our teachers face in the classroom. My solution to the problem is simple: Wrap more support systems around our teachers and students to create a safe learning environment. I have a three-part plan that will work collaboratively or independently to achieve these goals.

First, I will advocate for a bipartisan elected school board with limited taxing authority. It’s time to take the education of children living in Philadelphia out of the hands of bureaucrats and professional politicians. Philadelphia is the only county in Pennsylvania that does not have an elected school board. The makeup of the board needs to be bipartisan, in the same manner as we elect our city commissioners, allowing both political parties to have a seat at the table. Candidates should have prerequisites in the same manner as running for judge or attorney general. To date, state control has been unsuccessful. We need to regain local control of our schools from the bureaucrats in Harrisburg. The time is now to put our children’s education in the hands of qualified citizens and not the friends of elected officials.

Secondly, to grow the School District, we need more teachers, teacher assistants, school police officers, mental health workers, coaches, nurses, and counselors. I am a firm believer in smaller classrooms, creating an intimate learning experience. I want to see a student-teacher ratio of 1:24, and anything above 24 students would require a classroom aide or teacher assistant. We need properly funded afterschool programs, which strengthen our students’ social skills and values. We have to grow our way out of the problem instead of cutting our way out.

And lastly, increase revenue to adequately fund the School District. We can achieve this by collaborating with leaders from the tourism industry to increase tourism-based excise taxes (hotel tax and vehicle tax) to improve public education without slowing industry growth. In 2013, according to Visit Philly, tourism generated “$636 million in state and local taxes.” Slight increases to taxes on this industry will not deter tourism to Philadelphia, considering that our taxes are lower than most historic cities that thrive off of colonial tourism. For example, here’s how Philadelphia’s tourism-based taxes compared to other historic cities:

Hotel tax: 15.5 percent,
Vehicle rent tax: 2 percent
Hotel tax: 12.45 percent
Vehicle rental: $10
Washington DC
Hotel tax: 14.5 percent
Vehicle rental tax: 10 percent

See the responses from other City Council candidates

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