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Jones: PPA's other scandal is how it's shortchanged city schoolchildren

THE YEARSLONG sexual harassment scandal at the Philadelphia Parking Authority is deeply troubling, and I hope the two women who were victimized by former executive director Vincent Fenerty will be made whole.

THE YEARSLONG sexual harassment scandal at the Philadelphia Parking Authority is deeply troubling, and I hope the two women who were victimized by former executive director Vincent Fenerty will be made whole.

As disconcerting as the allegation that Fenerty sexually harassed those women is the fact that the PPA board of directors failed to act to correct Fenerty's behavior.

That the board allowed him to remain employed - and even offered to pay off one of his alleged victims with a $150,000 settlement - speaks to a level of complicity that makes them far worse than negligent.

But as bad as they are, the sexual harassment allegations, which were first reported by Inquirer columnist Mike Newall, are not the worst thing that has happened at the PPA in recent years.

The worst thing is that the PPA, which is required by law to help fund the Philadelphia School District, has sought increases in parking rates while at the same time decreasing the amount of money it has given to the children of the Philadelphia School District, children who are mostly black and brown.

Maybe if Fenerty wasn't so involved in sexually harassing his subordinates, and the politically connected PPA board was less concerned with what looks like an attempted coverup, the PPA would have paid the $7.5 million in increased revenue it promised to deliver to the Philadelphia School District after receiving a parking rate increase.

Maybe if the children were white and affluent, there would be more of an outcry about the decreased funding to the Philadelphia School District.

But the PPA is a mosh pit of political patronage where six-figure salaries seem to multiply like cancer, and basic accountability is at a minimum. Not only has the PPA failed to provide the promised revenue to the schools; nobody seems to know how much the PPA should really be paying.

"School District revenue from the PPA has declined nearly $4 million since 2012," School District spokesman Kevin Geary told me in a statement. "Even worse, the School District of Philadelphia has never known year from year how much revenue is coming to schools and children from the PPA. The School District has stabilized our finances, and we continue to work toward long-term funding solutions for our schools. We hope revenue from the PPA is both reliable and more consistent moving forward for our children and our schools."

Given these truths, I feel badly for the two women who were sexually harassed by Fenerty. But I feel worse for the 130,000 children of the Philadelphia School District. They're the ones who were forced to attend schools without basic necessities while the Parking Authority used its revenues to pay for secret sexual harassment investigations. And even as the authority used those students as props for their latest parking rate hike, the extra money that was supposed to go to the schools is nowhere to be found.

I asked Council President Darrell Clarke whether he thought the parking authority owes money to the School District.

"I don't want to speculate," he told me in a radio interview. "I do know that we were asked in Council to raise fees, and we were told that it was going to be an additional approximately ($7.5 million) on the table for the School District as a result of the most recent increase in fees. Somehow that money didn't materialize, so we need to get to the bottom of that. And I think that with the combination of the audit that was done by the authority - a private entity, as required by the state - and, more importantly, the audit that will be done by the auditor general, (we) should get to the bottom of that particular issue. But there's clearly a broader issue with respect to how the Parking Authority should continue to generate money for the Philadelphia School District, per the original legislation."

I emailed the Parking Authority to get clarity on what happened to the extra money it was supposed to forward to the School District. The email bounced.

How apropos.

Now it's up to Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale to figure out what's going on with the Parking Authority's finances. He plans to do a full audit if he can, but, legally, the authority for doing so falls to the state attorney general.

"It's certainly my intention to get to the bottom of how much money is supposed to go to the school district," DePasquale told me in an interview. "It is questionable right now how much authority we have. We are relying on a court decision and the cooperation of the Philadelphia Parking Authority.

"We're beginning to work that issue out."

For the sake of Philadelphia's schoolchildren, I certainly hope so.

Solomon Jones is the author of 10 books. Listen to him mornings from 7 to 10 on WURD (900-AM).