Insider: How to Stop the Annual School District Vs. City Council Smackdowns

How the School District can turn that frown upside down | Photo Copyright of the Philadelphia City Council. Produced and Edited by Monika Shayka and Michael Falconi.

How the School District can turn that frown upside down | Photo Copyright of the Philadelphia City Council. Produced and Edited by Monika Shayka and Michael Falconi.

(Editor’s note: This is an opinion column from a Citified insider.)

This is school advocates’ most dreaded time of the year: city budget season. If there’s one thing all education advocates can agree on, it’s that the process of funding our schools is broken. The timing is all wrong and the discussion always seems to lack substance, directing attention away from what matters. How do we change this?

Council members argue for stronger accountability and transparency – they understandably don’t want to spend more money without guaranteeing something better for families and their constituents. The District reasonably argues for more funding – they need recurring funds to match rising costs, and they have agreed to open their books and provide endless accounting of spending.

What’s missing from the debate is a bridge that would span the divide between Council and the District: specific annual goals to match needed investment. Read more »

The Brief: Millennials Didn’t Vote This Year, Like At All

Election Day in Philadelphia | Photo by AP/Matt Rourke

Election Day in Philadelphia | Photo by AP/Matt Rourke

1. Voter turnout among millennials was abysmal in the mayoral election.

The gist: Only 12 percent of registered voters between the ages of 18 and 34 cast a ballot in Philadelphia’s mayoral election, according to newly released data from the City Commissioners office. Millennials make up the largest bloc of registered voters in the city, though you wouldn’t know it on Election Day. As BillyPenn reported, “There are 71,000 more registered millennials than people age 35-to-49, 82,000 more than people age 50-to-64 and 140,000 more than people age 65 and up. And yet those respective age groups beat the millennials in voter turnout by about 20,000, 53,000 and 42,000.” Read more »

School District Says Council’s Funding Plan Falls Short

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Photo by Jeff Fusco

[Updated] A Philadelphia City Council committee gave a preliminary thumbs-up Wednesday to a package of bills that would raise money for the cash-strapped schools. But school district officials say the proposal falls short of their request for an additional $103 million.

Instead of going with Mayor Michael Nutter’s plan to hike property taxes by 9 percent in order to provide an extra $105 million to the schools, Council members are instead opting to spread out the pain to taxpayers. Their school funding package would increase the property tax by 4.5 percent, raise the parking tax by 12.5 percent, and boost the use-and-occupancy tax by 7.1 percent.

Lawmakers also gave committee-level approval Wednesday to Council President Darrell Clarke’s proposal to expand the city’s ability to sell liens on commercial properties. He says that could bring in as much as $30 million to the schools.

Jane Roh, a spokeswoman for Clarke, issued a press release that said Council’s legislation would “increase the local share of funding for the school district of Philadelphia by up to $100 million.”

But Fernando Gallard, a spokesman for the school district, said that Council has only earmarked an extra $45 million for the schools.

“Did they meet the funding request that we put forward to them? No,” he said. “That’s clear, and that’s something that we would have liked to see.” Read more »

Big Plastic Bag Wins Again

Yuck. | Photo via Shutterstock.com

Yuck. | Photo via Shutterstock.com

Philadelphia lawmakers have tried to both ban and tax plastic bags in the past, only to be beaten by Big Bag.

When Councilman Mark Squilla introduced legislation this year that would add a 5-cent fee to plastic and paper shopping bags, the outcome was supposed to be different. For one, it was much less costly than the 25-cent fee that Council debated in the past. And two, a significant number of cities and states have altogether banned plastic bags.

But on Wednesday, Squilla said that he is tabling the bill for this legislative session. Read more »

Could This Guy Spark an Independent Revolution in Philly?

Andrew Stober | Photo via Stober's Facebook

Andrew Stober | Photo via Stober’s Facebook

Could Andrew Stober make political independents a real force in Philadelphia, as opposed to the non-factor they are now?

Stober is a 36-year policy geek who most recently worked as chief-of-staff in Mayor Michael Nutter’s Office of Transportation and Utilities.

On Wednesday, he announced that he is running for City Council At-Large this year as an Independent, and he hopes that many others will follow in his footsteps.

His decision to throw his hat in the ring as an Independent, as opposed to running in the primary as a Democrat, is intriguing. By law, two of Philadelphia’s seven City Council At-Large seats don’t go to the top vote-getters overall; instead, they are reserved for those who tally up the most votes out of the smaller pool of candidates who aren’t Democrats. Republicans usually snag those two seats, but they’re also open to Independents and members of the Green Party, Working Families Party, Tea Party and so on.

Though Stober starts out with very little name recognition, there is a chance that Nutter will stick out his neck for him, which would help him build up support. And as an Independent, Stober only needs to compete with Republicans to win, and they draw in far fewer votes than Democrats.

We sat down with Stober in Center City to talk about his platform, his chances of winning, and his dream of sparking an Independent revolution in Philly. Our questions have been paraphrased and his responses have been lightly edited for clarity. Read more »

The Brief: Shane Montgomery’s Mom Presses for More Surveillance Cameras in Philly

Shane Montgomery

Shane Montgomery

1. The mother of Shane Montgomery testified in favor of a bill that would beef up the number of surveillance cameras in the city.

The gist: Last year, 21-year-old college student Shane Montgomery apparently drowned in the Schuylkill River after drinking at Kildaire’s Irish Pub in Manayunk. Kildaire’s did not have a working outdoor camera, and Montgomery’s body wasn’t discovered until weeks after his death. In the wake of the tragedy, Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr. introduced a bill in February to require all city establishments that serve alcohol to install a surveillance camera outside. NewsWorks reports that Montgomery’s mother, Karen, told Council on Monday, “I have no delusions that any camera would have saved my Shane. However, I am convinced without a doubt that had video shown his direction upon leaving his last stop, the suffering endured during searches without direction would have been lessened.” Read more »

Progressives Won the Philly Election? You Sure About That?

The victorious Jim Kenney on Election Day| Photo by Jeff Fusco

The victorious Jim Kenney on Election Day| Photo by Jeff Fusco

Philadelphia is suddenly a progressive utopia.

At least, that’s what you might believe after reading articles about the city’s primary election in the national media.

Jim Kenney, a former Philadelphia city councilman who has cast himself as a progressive in the mold of Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York, handily defeated five other candidates to win the Democratic nomination for mayor Tuesday,” reads the first sentence of The New York Times article about the race.

The Atlantic went a step further, writing that “progressives scored a victory” because the mayoral race “pitted a crusading left-winger against a charter-school advocate backed by suburban hedge-fund magnates” and “this time, the left-winger … actually won.” Even Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News declared that it was a new day after Kenney, “who ran on the most progressive platform of a major Philadelphia mayoral candidate in our lifetimes,” won in a landslide, at the same time that education activist Helen Gym succeeded in her campaign for City Council.

Not so fast. Read more »

The Brief: Stu Bykofsky’s Candidates’ Comedy Night Is Ending

1. Stu Bykofsky’s 25th Candidates’ Comedy Night will be the last.

The gist: For the past two-and-a-half decades, Daily News reporter Stu Bykofsky has convinced city, state and federal candidates to get up on stage and tell jokes for a good cause. (Well, try to tell jokes, at least. With the exception of state Sen. Daylin Leach, few politicians are actually funny.) All of the proceeds from Bykofsky’s Candidates’ Comedy Night go to Variety, a children’s charity. But Bykofsky says that this year’s comedy night on August 11th will be the final act. Bykofsky explained why he is wrapping up the event in an article today: “Let’s start with the truism that all good things must come to an end. It is an immutable fact I cannot do it forever, and 25 years is a mark often used in retirements.” Read more »

The Brief: Unapologetic Bill Hite Presses His Case for More Cash for Schools

William Hite, Superintendent of Philadelphia Schools, in the Pennsylvania Capitol meeting with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and state legislators seeking funds for Philadelphia Schools during state budget talks Sunday, June 29, 2014, in Harrisburg, Pa. AP Photo | Bradley C. Bower

William Hite, Superintendent of Philadelphia Schools, in Harrisburg last year. He’s got a whole new funding fight in 2015. AP Photo | Bradley C. Bower

1. With City Council prepped to short the School District, Superintendent Bill Hite urges politicians not to let the district’s ongoing crisis become the new normal.

The gist: As Citified’s Holly Otterbein first reported, City Council is now considering an array of funding options for the schools that will fall short of the $105 million requested by Hite. Probably well short. Council members have telegraphed this for a while, particularly during last week’s district budget hearings, which were a spectacle. This week, City Council President Darrell Clarke said Hite’s request — which totals $300 million overall, including $200 million from the state — represents a “Cadillac version of what [Hite would] like to see moving forward.”

Hite is pushing back. He told the Inquirer’s editorial board: “I respect Council’s position as the authorizing authority for additional revenue. But I’m the superintendent, which means I have to tell you what it costs to educate children.” Read more »

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