Remember the bad old days, when the city had no money and had to decide whether to raise taxes or cut services? They may not be over. This week, the school district and its gigantic deficit come before City Council, presumably to ask for more money. Council will have to decide whether to help out, and, if it does choose to help, where the money will come from. IOM will be bringing you a lot of content on this debate over the next couple of days. Let's start here: a Daily News editorial laying out the stakes. We've also got an op-ed from the Public School Notebook's Helen Gym explaining how city and district leaders can step up, which includes this argument:
The share of property tax going to the schools has declined from 60 percent to 55 percent, a difference of almost $60 million, according to the district's finance office. In fact, the city contribution to schools has barely budged from 2007-08 levels, even as property taxes have increased. The city has also held on to sacred cows like uber-generous property-tax abatements. A 2008 Inquirer analysis showed that by 2012, the schools would forfeit more than $100 million over the course of the program.
City officials need to drop complaints that the district is a state-run agency, which absolves them of any real responsibility. The mayor appoints two of the five members on the School Reform Commission, including Chairman Robert Archie, whose ethical lapses have tarnished the SRC's reputation. Instead, the mayor must take an active approach built around local financing, particularly given the current financial crisis.
We also have the analysis of IOM columnist Phil Goldsmith, who argues that district leadership had opportunities to at least partially mitigate the shortfall it now faces. He calls on Mayor Nutter to step up and demand more accountability for city taxpayers' money:
After his primary victory, Mayor Nutter declared that his priorities begin with making Philadelphia "the education city." "I plan to devote the bulk of my time and effort to making sure the [city's children] get the resources they need," he was quoted as saying.
He should have been doing that from day one. Certainly, he has known of the district's financial problems for a couple of years. But he has been relatively silent on its finances and management.
I saw Nutter publicly ask tough, probing questions when he was a city councilman.
If he really wants an "education city," it's time for him to do that as mayor.