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Open letter to Corbett

Philly councilman-at-large has something to get off his chest

GOV. CORBETT, it's clear that you want Philadelphia taxpayers and public-school teachers to close the Philadelphia School District's more than $250 million budget gap with tax hikes and pay cuts. You call this "shared sacrifice"; however, the facts tell the true reality.

In 2011, you cut state funding for the school district by $308 million, a 19 percent decrease. Of that total, $130 million represented federal stimulus funds that the state had given to public schools over the prior two years in lieu of state funding. The remainder - $178 million, nearly 60 percent of the total - was 100 percent commonwealth funding, having nothing to do with the stimulus.

Your 2011 cuts were historic, devastating and wildly unbalanced. Total state funding for Pennsylvania's public schools was cut $790 million, an 8 percent reduction. But Philadelphia, which educates 11 percent of the state's schoolchildren and half of the state's poor children, bore 39 percent of the cuts. We responded to the crisis with deep school-district spending cuts and $53 million in new city funding. By the end of June 2012, these actions eliminated all but $28 million of the gap created by you.

Since then, you have frozen state funding at the 2011 level. This is a broken model for a district where costs grow by more than $100 million each year, even if the school district does not add a single new employee or program. Your funding freeze, plus the remainder of the 2011 problem that was not permanently solved, has created the 2013 budget gap.

Nearly 40 percent of Pennsylvania's 500 school districts receive more state aid per student than does Philadelphia, according to the Pennsylvania Education Department. We rank as the 67th poorest of the state's 500 school districts. The Pittsburgh School District, ranked the 261st poorest, received $2,126 dollars more for every one of its students from the state in 2011-12 than Philadelphia did. If treated equitability, our schools would be receiving $429 million more from the commonwealth. Additionally, we spent 7 percent less per student than the state average in 2011-12. In the three years before your cuts, the school district ran annual surpluses of about $30 million. We weren't spending beyond our means then and we're not doing so today.

You wrongly said that your cuts were the only way to avoid raising taxes. The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center revealed that you actually cut business taxes by more than $500 million in your first two years in office. The Pennsylvania Independent Fiscal Office also says that if you stop blocking Medicaid expansion, 400,000 more Pennsylvanians will gain access to preventive health care and the state would annually save $400 million.

Now, you demand that our teachers help close your budget gap by accepting $133 million in wage and benefit cuts. Do you think they get paid too much? The Pennsylvania School Board Association says that Philadelphia educators are paid 19 percent less than teachers in Bucks and Montgomery counties. And those Pittsburgh teachers from your home county are paid 8 percent more than our educators. Didn't you recently negotiate pay raises to state workers in their last labor contract? Why are raises for state workers OK but only pay cuts appropriate for our educators?

City funding for public schools for 2013-14 will be more than $150 million higher than it was in 2010-11. And now you want the city to give another $120 million more in city sales tax to the schools in 2014-15? If City Council agrees, the city would be putting up $270 million in new city funding to close the gap that you created. In the meantime, recurring state funding for Philadelphia schools will be $284 million lower in 2013-14 than in 2010-11.

Governor, you created this mess. We are tired of hearing you tell us what we need to do to solve this crisis. The city has done more than its share to help the schools over the past three years. Now, it's your turn. I see the sacrifice, but I just don't see the "sharing."