Schoolmageddon: Should the SRC Have Taxing Power?

Lots of school news for today’s roundup. Perhaps most significant? Talk that the state-appointed School Reform Commission will be given power to raise the city’s sales taxes, bypassing City Council entirely.

WHYY reports:

Gov. Corbett’s budget secretary, Charles Zogby, said there has been talk in Harrisburg of changing the law to give the SRC that power if City Council does not quickly extend a 1 percent local sales tax that was due to expire.

“There’s just so much patience that I think folks are going to be prepared to exercise,” Zogby said. “If City Council is unwilling to act, I think there’ll be those in Harrisburg who will say, ‘Well, then maybe we need to look at another path and take City Council out of the picture.’”

Most school boards in other parts of Pennsylvania have the authority to levy taxes and are elected, not appointed, like the SRC.

“The idea of giving these folks taxing power when they have not been elected? Oh, absolutely not. Absolutely not,” said state Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia. “What we need to be talking about is … the School District of Philadelphia is in the crisis that it’s in right now because the governor has cut funding.”

In the meantime, the SRC spent its first meeting of the new school year hearing about the impact of budget cuts on Philly schools. The Inquirer reports:

Ruth Garcia, one of 16 itinerant counselors, said she was now responsible for more than 3,700 students at eight schools.

She asked the SRC how itinerant counselors could be expected to help that many students with their academic, personal, and social issues and assist special-education students.

Garcia said she had learned earlier in the day that students at one of her schools had been affected by neighborhood shootings over the weekend. But she said the principal could not reach her because she did not have a district cellphone or laptop.

“My concern is for the students . . . for our schools and the possibility of legal ramifications of this,” she said.

Mayor Nutter took the school funding case directly to Gov. Corbett on Monday. AP:

Inadequate funding for Pennsylvania’s largest school district could damage the futures of its students and the state’s economy, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said Monday after he lobbied Gov. Tom Corbett for more aid.

Nutter, a second-term Democrat, declined to lay blame for the worst fiscal crisis in memory in Philadelphia’s schools. But he said things have to change.

“We cannot continue to go year after year after year with literally hat in hand to — whether its City Council and the mayor or the General Assembly and the governor — begging for the bare minimums,” Nutter told reporters following a meeting in the Capitol with the Republican governor. “This is an economic issue. It’s beyond a moral issue now. It is potentially damaging the futures of children, the economy of the city and, I would suggest, the state as well.”