It is a curious asset for a nearly broke school system: more than 1,000 paintings and other works of art worth millions, with the priciest pieces hidden away for the last decade in an undisclosed location.
Some have wanted the works sold to help a Philadelphia School District financial situation so dire many schools lack full-time counselors, nurses, and other essentials.
But retired teacher Marilyn Krupnick has made it her business to get the art out of storage and into a venue where students can appreciate it.
"Selling the artwork cannot cure the ills of the Philadelphia School District," Krupnick told the School Reform Commission last week. The replacement value of the work is about $8 million, but the district thought it could get much less - about $600,000 - for a select group of paintings.
But the bottom line is not about dollars and cents, said Arlene Holtz, a former district principal who had supported the quest to get the work out of storage and back in front of students.
"Art matters," Holtz said.
This month, the SRC was poised to hire a firm to sell 60 of the most valuable works.
Krupnick's plea moved the SRC, though, and ultimately the panel opted not to sell, at least for now.
"It just doesn't feel right to do this," Commissioner Joseph Dworetzky said. "This is part of the history of the district."
The art includes antiques and artifacts. Among the paintings are works by Thomas Eakins, African American artists Henry Ossawa Tanner and Dox Thrash, and impressionists Walter Baum and Edward Redfield.
Krupnick became aware of the district's collection 55 years ago, when her mother registered her at Woodrow Wilson Junior High on Cottman Avenue in the Northeast. Wilson, now a middle school, was home to more than half the district's most important works.
"I remember saying to my mother: 'Are you sure this is a school? It looks like an art museum,' " Krupnick recalled.
Charles Dudley, Wilson's first principal, appreciated art and was a friend of Baum's. Dudley built the collection painstakingly, raising money, Krupnick said, by holding shows at the school and charging the public a nickel for admission.
Years later, when Krupnick became a teacher at Wilson, she would lead her students on tours of the building, teaching them about the paintings and their history.
The art made Wilson - and other schools with artworks - special, she said.
"Nobody ever destroyed anything," she said. "I taught some tough kids, but not one child ever touched the artwork."
In 2004, then-Superintendent Paul Vallas ordered the works deemed particularly valuable or damaged removed from schools and sent to an art storage facility, reasoning that staff was not in a position to properly maintain or secure the art.
That infuriated some, including Krupnick.
"Paul Vallas ripped out the cultural heart of the School District," she said.
Since their removal, the valuable pieces have stayed parked in storage, and periodically, when money gets tight, the idea of selling them resurfaces.
But questions remain. A number of paintings are missing - Krupnick said there were 72 missing, and a city controller's audit confirmed some works could not be located.
Spokeswoman Deirdre Darragh said the School District was still trying to determine whether it should launch an investigation of the missing works.
And although the SRC agreed not to sell the art for now, there's no telling what might happen.
Krupnick said she had secured a commitment from the Michener Art Museum in Doylestown to accept and display the works. Museum officials would not comment.
Darragh said the SRC vote did not mean the art would return to schools.
"There are still serious concerns around the safety and preservation of artwork in the school buildings themselves," she said.
Still, Krupnick and Holtz, the former Wilson principal, are hopeful.
"We have another chance; we can lobby and fight," Holtz said after the art was spared at this month's SRC meeting.
Krupnick hopes the process moves quickly now, but she vows to stick with it. Philadelphia students deserve to see their cultural heritage, she said.
"What a teaching tool," Krupnick said. "What a history lesson."