A University of Pennsylvania student group called on the school Wednesday to begin donating about $6 million a year to Philadelphia, with the money designated for its cash-starved public schools and other "essential services."

The Student Labor Action Project asked Penn president Amy Gutmann to set aside the money for a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT). Penn, like other nonprofits, gets a break on property taxes. The $6 million represents a small portion of the property tax it would pay as a for-profit entity.

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 the schools donate 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 that opened in partnership with it in 2001. And as the city's largest private employer, the university generates more than $170 million in business, real estate, and 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.

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 that Penn, with its $9.6 billion budget and $4.3 billion fund-raising campaign that concluded nearly two years ago, should do more.

ssnyder@phillynews.com

215-854-4693 @ssnyderinq