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Penn student group calls on university to donate to the city

Penn should make payments in lieu of taxes to the city to aid city schools and essential services, a Penn student group says.

A student group has called on the University of Pennsylvania to begin donating about $6 million a year to the city in lieu of taxes, with the money targeted for the city's cash-starved public schools and "essential services."

The Student Labor Action Project (SLAP), connected with Jobs With Justice, made a formal request Wednesday to Penn President Amy Gutmann to set aside a portion of the Ivy League university's annual operating budget — about $6 million — and make what's known as a payment in lieu of taxes or (PILOT).

Penn's response was the same as it has been in recent years when education advocates and others have raised the prospect: No.

Officials at Penn — and other city universities — have said their schools donate to the city in many ways including services, expertise, neighborhood upgrades and student scholarships. Penn has noted that it also gives up to $750,000 a year to Penn Alexander, a district elementary school in its neighborhood that opened in partnership with Penn in 2001. And as the city's largest private employer, the university generates more than $170 million in business, real estate, sales and wage taxes.

"We believe that what we do not only in terms of paying taxes but what we do in terms of all the contributions … is far more than the city would achieve through PILOT payments," said Jeffrey Cooper, vice president for government and community affairs.

The university, he said, most recently has started a program which opens its museum to seventh-graders throughout the city for classroom visits and tours. He noted that Philadelphia City Council next weeks is planning to honor Penn for its contributions, as well as other city colleges.

Philadelphia isn't the only local community grappling with the issue. Radnor Township is going after Villanova and Eastern universities and Cabrini College to contribute nearly $1 million a year.

The Penn student group, believes the wealthy Penn, with its $9.6 billion budget and $4.3 billion fundraising campaign that concluded nearly two years ago, should do more.