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 Democrat Allan Domb, a real estate developer and president of the Greater Philadelphia Association of Realtors.
Responses were edited for length and clarity.
Given the School District’s significant structural deficit, I have grave concerns about the expansion of charter schools. I would have opposed any additional charters being granted until the deficit was dealt with in a permanent way.
This does not mean I oppose all charters or that I am opposed to charters being added in the future. Not every child learns the same way, and there needs to be options for parents to ensure that their child has an opportunity to obtain a high-quality education.
The School Reform Commission, tasked with educating Philadelphia’s students, should put its energies into public schools to help them thrive. That may require changes to the school calendar, adding curriculum in our traditional public schools, or seeking additional education options for parents.
The state has an absolute obligation to properly fund our schools. Unfortunately, for generations, Harrisburg has ignored the constitutional requirement to do so. Given the absence of leadership from Harrisburg, the city must step up for the sake of its children.
The city has untapped sources of revenue that could go to fund schools. My plan for collecting delinquent taxes — where the city can use existing best practices that other cities have used to increase delinquent tax collection to 99 percent — could increase our revenue by $100 million in the first year. These funds could be used to hire teachers, reinstate life-saving nurses and support staff, improve our classrooms, school buildings, and curriculum to give our students the education they deserve.
Do I believe it’s right for the SRC to pursue contract concessions through the court system? I do not. As a businessman, I believe that contracts are meant to be honored. There is a contract in place, and if the SRC wants contract changes, they can negotiate those terms fully, fairly, and as part of the regular contract process.
There are three critical things that will help resolve the schools’ chronic funding problems.
We must focus on increasing the state’s share of funding. With a new governor who has committed to increasing funding and City Council’s recent hiring of its own lobbyist, hopefully the city will be able to obtain additional funding.
The city needs to increase its funding by doing a better job of collecting delinquent taxes. By working to collect delinquent taxes by using the best practices other cities have adopted, we may be able to collect nearly $100 million annually. That’s money that can and should go to our schools.
We need to increase the number of people who live and work here. By increasing the number of young families who live here, we will increase the tax base and generate funds for our schools. To do that, we need to focus on job opportunities for today’s workers and current students by attracting high-wage employers.