Sharper pencils than mine will be dissecting the books of the Philadelphia Parking Authority now that it looks like a pittance of its record receipts are being used to support the cash-starved schools.

Hawk eyes - from parents who are CPAs to the city controller and the Pennsylvania governor - are trying to figure out just how a steroidal agency that's raked in an inflation-adjusted 54 percent increase in revenue since 2001 has given so little in return.

In 2004, the parking agency agreed to send the schools all profits from meters, towing and booting - after clearing the first $25 million. So far, that's resulted in only one payment, of $4 million.

Which is quite a bit less than the $45 million a year that State Rep. John Perzel (R., Phila.) said the agency would generate for the Philadelphia schools when the legislature took over the patronage-bloated agency.

Strike that, he says. Bad math.

So as we wait for a frisking of the authority's payroll, I thought it would be helpful to look at just what the schools could do with some cash - say, just one of the more than 20 parking agency salaries that exceed $100,000 a year, according to Inquirer staff writer Patrick Kerkstra's accounting.

Turns out $100,000 is exactly the amount the school district has had to slash this year from its sponsorship of Outward Bound, a program that seeks to build leadership skills in city kids by exposing them to the challenges of the wilds.

That cut will keep 500 city students from going on an Outward Bound expedition, says the local organization's executive director, Katie Pastuszek.

More need, less supply

"We've got more demand than ever," she said. "Our focus is the public schools and charter schools - kids who wouldn't normally have access to programs like this."

That would include pioneers like Antoine and Anthony Matthis, eighth graders at the Wissahickon Charter School who were circling up Wednesday afternoon at Outward Bound's headquarters in Fairmount Park, fresh - if that's the word - from five-day treks.

Antoine went to the Delaware Water Gap. His 13-year-old twin explored Philadelphia's open spaces.

"It's funny, but it was the first time they were separated for so long, and they both found out they were motivators," said their mother, Terri Matthis.

Antoine, who had never seen a mountain, wound up encouraging classmates to finish a climb. Anthony led a group that jump-started someone's broken-down car.

"Outward Bound talks about your comfort zone," said Mike Friedman, a science teacher at the charter school who accompanied Antoine's group.

"Once you start stepping a little outside it, you start learning and that zone grows bigger and bigger."

Small steps

Friedman seized on a tiny moment of growth that happened on the third day. The adults had let the kids decide whether they'd take a long hike or make camp early and make up the bulk of the distance the day after.

"I've known these kids a long time," said Friedman, 38. "I've never seen them be so open to the ideas of others." They wound up making camp by daylight and traveled farther the next day.

Friedman hadn't gone on a five-day wilderness trek with his students before. He said the parents and school were taking a risk in letting them go, but it paid off.

"What struck me was how every one of the kids said that they missed their mothers. Out there, they find how much they appreciate what they have at home."

Antoine said something even more amazing, Friedman reported.

"He said, "I can't wait to get back and hug my brother."

That's a lesson you can't buy. Unless you're the Comcast Foundation, which underwrote the charter school's trips.

Maybe this is a form of patronage the Parking Authority could learn to get behind.