A DAY AFTER school officials came before City Council to plead for more money to overcome a budget deficit, taxpayers on Wednesday had their say— and they weren't happy.
"We will not allow you to use our children as ploys in this maneuver," said Madeline Shikomba, a Center City resident who is against Mayor Nutter's proposal to shift to a new property-tax system, known as the Actual Value Initiative, which would make permanent two tax increases that were billed as temporary and would collect $94 million for the district.
"The children of Philadelphia are currently not getting a good education, and now you want to make them and their families homeless," Shikomba said. "Well, I'll be damned because you're not going to tax us to continue paying for a failing school system."
District officials said Tuesday that its $218 million deficit for the 2012-13 school year will grow to $312 million without extra money from the city.
Critics call Nutter's proposal a tax hike, but he has said that the city is merely capturing the increase in property values. Several Council members say that providing extra money for the schools should be debated separately, and Councilman Mark Squilla has proposed legislation that would delay AVI for a year.
Rebecca Poyourow, a mother of two boys who attend Cook-Wissahickon Elementary School, urged Council to invest in public schools but to hold the district accountable.
"I ask you to shoulder your responsibility to find money to stabilize the district and to lobby for funding at the state level," she said. "In addition to being underfunded, it is also the case that the district does not always spend the funds it has wisely, so I would ask you to provide stipulations..."
Some residents and union representatives expressed concerns about the proposed reorganization, including closing 40 schools next year, potential layoffs and privatization.
"We are in need of your help," said John Krol, a maintenance worker. "The overall morale of my union members is at an all-time low for there is too much uncertainty wondering if an agreement can be reached and if we are still going to have our jobs."
Meanwhile, a coalition led by parent groups and school-employee unions blasted the proposed cuts and structural changes as shortsighted, decisions that would ultimately hurt students.
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan said that he had not been approached before the SRC unveiled its proposal last month. The SRC also is figuring on $156 million in savings from its five unions over the next five years. The union approved a one-year contract extension in October that allowed 15,000 teachers and support staff to receive a scheduled 3 percent pay raise in January. The union did agree to forgo a district payment of $30 million to its health-and-welfare fund. After layoffs in December, Jordan signaled an unwillingness to make more concessions. n
Contact Jan Ransom at 215-854-5218 or Ransomj@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @Jan_Ransom.
— Inquirer staff writer Troy Graham