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 »

Will Council Fund Schools With a Big Parking Tax Hike?

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Photo by Jeff Fusco

[Updated at 4:20 p.m.]

Philadelphia school district officials are asking City Council to pay a huge bill this year. They say they need an extra $103 million, even after lawmakers have voted to increase funding by $376 million over the last four years.

At budget hearings this spring, Council members have scoffed at Mayor Michael Nutter’s proposal to foot the bill by raising property taxes by 9 percent.

Now, an alternative plan by Council is beginning to take shape. And, after a dark-money group created by parking magnates backed Council candidates who ran against incumbent legislators, it might include a parking tax increase. Read more »

Surprise! Philly’s Commercial Property Taxes Are Pretty Damn Low

Photo by James Losey, Creative Commons License

Photo by James Losey, Creative Commons License

Study after study and politician after politician have said that Philadelphia’s taxes are way too high. But a new report by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and the Minnesota Center for Fiscal Excellence shows that there is at least one exception to that rule.

It found that Philly has among the lowest taxes in the country for small-scale commercial and industrial properties.

Read more »

Philly Has Boosted School Funding By a Staggering Amount Since 2011

School District of Philadelphia

Photo by Jeff Fusco

1. Philadelphia has significantly increased funding for the city’s schools since 2011, while money from the state and federal government has dried up.

The gist: It’s that maddening time of year in Philadelphia when school district officials go hat in hand to City Council to ask for more money. Perhaps you’ve wondered why the district requests additional funding every single year — and if there’s any end in sight to their begging. Or maybe you see it from the other side, and would like to know why Council is so irritable about a simple request to fund one of the most important functions of government. Patrick Kerkstra has answers to both questions in a must-read story from the weekend. In short, the city has significantly increased funding for the school district over the last few years, while federal dollars have decreased and state support has barely moved an inch.
Read more »

City Council to School District: Go Away Already

Students have a modest request of City Council. | Photo  courtesy of Philadelphia City Council. Produced and Edited by Michael Falconi and Jenae Brown.

Students have a modest request of City Council. | Photo courtesy of Philadelphia City Council. Produced and Edited by Michael Falconi and Jenae Brown.

There are few City Hall scenes more dispiriting than the display of mutual contempt that unfolds each year when the School District of Philadelphia comes to City Council begging for money.

This year’s spite of spring featured: Read more »

Insider: 4 Things Jim Kenney Must Do To Fix Philly’s Schools

Jim Kenney | Photo by Jeff Fusco

Jim Kenney | Photo by Jeff Fusco

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

If you’re a parent in the School District of Philadelphia, you may have worried that officials would try to close your school. Or that your child wouldn’t have a nurse, would have to walk two miles just to get to school, or that their favorite teacher would strike.

But City Council has a different worry: Can your child read and write cursive?

At Council’s hearings on school funding this week, cursive — not Mayor Michael Nutter’s proposal to plug the district’s budget gap by raising property taxes  — dominated the debate.

My school has no air conditioning, one-fifth of a nurse, a rotating school-police officer, and the only technology upgrades are the ones we literally lug onto a truck ourselves. Writing this on a 90-degree day, my response to CursiveGate is entirely inappropriate for Citified and begins with a capital “F.” Whether that “F” contains the proper ascenders and descenders is at Council’s discretion.

Jim Kenney, the city’s presumptive next mayor, may have an easier time pushing his education agenda through Council than Nutter has.

School activist Helen Gym will likely sit in City Council next year. And in a mayoral election where education was the No. 1 issue, Kenney won a clear majority against five opponents, one of whom was funded by school-choice oligarchs. He has, dare I say, a mandate.

And yet, the mayor has little direct power over schools. But Kenney will be far from powerless. Here are four things he can do to support strong schools for every child:

Read more »

The Brief: Anthony Williams a No-Show at Dem (Dis)Unity Breakfast

This is the last time we'll run this photo. Promise. | Photos by Jeff Fusco.

This is the last time we’ll run this photo. Promise. | Photos by Jeff Fusco.

1. Anthony Williams a no-show at Democratic post-election unity breakfast to rally behind mayoral nominee Jim Kenney.

The gist: State Senator Anthony Williams was a no-show at a let’s-all-hug breakfast organized by party boss Bob Brady on behalf of Jim Kenney yesterday morning, Chris Brennan reports for the Inquirer. The entire point of the breakfast — which Brady graciously also hosted in 2007, when he was defeated by Michael Nutter — is to set aside any lingering hard feelings from the election (publicly, anyway), and make a show of backing the party’s nominee. Most of the breakfast attendees were Democratic ward leaders. Williams, in addition to being the (distant) 2nd place finisher in last week’s mayoral election, is a ward leader.

So where was he? Williams told Brennan that “he did not know about the breakfast meeting, received no invitation, and had no plans ‘to crash the party.'” That seems … dubious. Kenney shrugged it off. He told Brennan: “People take some time off … I assume that’s what it is, and I wish him well with the time he’s taking off to recharge and get back in the game.” Read more »

School District Employee Arrested on Perjury, Conflict of Interest Charges

Priscilla Wright via LinkedIn | School District headquarters, Jeff Fusco

Priscilla Wright via LinkedIn | School District headquarters, Jeff Fusco

A Philadelphia School District employee faces charges of steering $900,000 worth of contracts to vendors owned by, and that employed, friends and family.

Priscilla Wright, 50, was manager of small business development for the district. She turned herself in and was arrested today, officials say. She has also resigned her employment with the district. Read more »

Schools Renew Request for City Money

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Now that the primary electionis over, City Council will take a look at the Philadelphia School District’s request for $105 million in new funds for the 2015-16 school year. The request has been on the table for months, but council members seemed reluctant to approve that much spending before an election.

“School district officials will urge council to agree to May or Michael Nutter’s proposed 9.4 percent property tax hike,” NewsWorks reports. “Council members have been reluctant to raise property taxes on the heels of Philly’s recent tax assessment overhaul, which drastically boosted bills for some in the city.” Read more »

Report: Philly Public School Graduation Rates Rising

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 9.05.16 AM

Source: Project U-Turn

Nearly two thirds of ninth-graders entering Philadelphia public high schools in the 2008-2009 school year graduated on time, a new study says — the greatest percentage of graduates in more than a decade of close study.

The report from Project U-Turn shows that 64 percent of 2008’s ninth-graders graduated from high school within four years — up from a low of 43 percent of 2000-01’s ninth-graders.

“This report shows that Philadelphia public schools are graduating considerably more students than in the past,” the study’s authors concluded. “More can be done, however, to ensure that those being left behind receive the support needed before they drop out.” Read more »

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