Activists who showed up at the Philadelphia Parking Authority's board meeting yesterday pulled the plug on a planned protest for an unusual reason: The authority caved to their demands, at least in part.
Before the protesters could name the authority "Grinch of the Year" for stiffing public schools, Mayor-elect Michael Nutter announced that the authority had agreed to cost-saving measures that will net more money for the city and $1.25 million for the school district in the current budget year.
"We'll take this victory," said Aissia Richardson of Parents United for Public Education, "but we want to be here for the check-signing, to make sure it really happens. And we'll never stop fighting for our children."
For months, education activists have criticized the authority for allegedly excessive spending and failing to deliver promised money for public education.
Meanwhile, the Daily News and Inquirer have written stories about high executive pay and pensions and other spending at the authority.
When Harrisburg Republicans took control of the authority in 2001, part of the rationale was that it could deliver as much as $5 million a year to the school district by generating greater profits. In every year since, except one, the authority has provided nothing.
Nutter made a surprise appearance at yesterday's board meeting along with state Rep. Dwight Evans. Both had met with authority officials to work out details of the belt-tightening steps announced at the meeting.
Because state law requires that the first $25 million of authority profit go to the city, officials had to push the agency's profit above $26 million to get the school district between $1 million and $2 million in this and the next budget year.
Authority Executive Director Vince Fenerty said $5 million-plus in annual savings the authority has found won't impair the authority's work. He acknowledged that officials acted partly in response to the protests and news reports.
He said he hoped the commitment of money for schools would take some of the steam out of the protests:
"I would hope so," Fenerty said. "But I always welcome scrutiny. Scrutiny is good."
Among steps the authority says will yield cash for the city and school district over the next two years are:
* a $4.5 million cut in reserves for paying insurance claims;
* a transfer of money from the city's Live Stop program administered by the authority - in which the cars of drivers with no license or registration are impounded - into a fund that benefits the city and schools;
* a previously announced 6 percent pay cut for top executives;
* other reductions in staffing and other programs.
Nutter praised the activists for their "hard work" in pressuring the authority, but said the federal, state and city governments are responsible for funding schools.
"I would encourage you to redirect your efforts to the primary funders of public education," Nutter said.
In a statement released yesterday afternoon, Helen Gym of Parents United called the authority's action a "most minimal start" toward meeting its funding responsibility, and called the authority "an agency with an alarming amount of waste."