Life at Philly Public Schools: Teachers Make Wiffle Balls Out of Duct Tape

Photo of duct tape and newspaper wiffle balls by Leslie Marie Grace. For the original image, which shows more of the balls, go here.

Photo of duct tape and newspaper Wiffle balls by Leslie Marie Grace. For the original image, which shows more of the balls, go here.

Philadelphia public school teachers have to get creative sometimes, especially when funds are scarce. Thanks to Reddit, a photo taken by a teacher at a South Philadelphia elementary school is going viral — much to that teacher’s surprise.

“I am frankly amazed!” says Leslie Marie Grace, the art teacher at the George W. Nebinger School at Sixth and Carpenter. “The image has really struck a chord with some people.” Here’s the story behind it:

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How the Beverage Lobby Quietly Killed the Soda Tax in Philly, Again

Shutterstock.com

Shutterstock.com

Much in the same way that the best lawyers kill lawsuits before they ever make it to trial, the best lobbyists kill legislation before it is ever introduced.

In Philadelphia, City Councilman Bobby Henon was seriously eyeing a tax on sugary beverages to help fund the financially crippled school district, according to several City Hall insiders. In fact, sources say Henon went to the trouble of drafting up legislation and putting together a plan to promote it. As a lawmaker who has launched anti-childhood obesity initiatives, it was a natural fit.

But when Council unveiled its education funding package last week, it included a hike in parking tax, a boost in real estate taxes, and an increase use-and-occupancy taxes … but no soda tax. Read more »

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 »

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 »

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.

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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.
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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 »

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