The Philadelphia School Reform Commission is trying to unload from its payroll 80 patronage jobs at the city Board of Revision of Taxes. Give the SRC an A. It's time to end this Rube Goldberg-designed scheme that has the School District paying the salaries of people it doesn't actually employ.
The School District is coughing up $3.8 million a year to pay these salaries for one reason only: This convoluted arrangement, taken straight out of the Tammany Hall Book of Political Scams, allows the BRT workers to evade the City Charter provision that bans city employees from engaging in political activity.
While the dubious payday protocol may - or may not - meet the letter of the law, it certainly doesn't meet the spirit of the law. The BRT employees work for the city - not the School District. Thus, they should be banned from political work.
Ah, but here's the rub: Political activity is the main reason the patronage workers got their jobs. A BRT job is one of the ducats that the city's party bosses - Democratic U.S. Rep. Bob Brady and Republican Michael Meehan - hand out to reward the faithful.
The BRT jobs are doled out to party hacks and their family members in return for their hard work around Election Day. This is the grease that makes the political machines run.
It's an outmoded and inefficient system that doesn't benefit city taxpayers, let alone public school students, in the least. To be sure, the patronage system isn't limited to the BRT; it's one reason that so many other city departments are bloated, but deemed untouchable by elected leaders.
Efforts to get the BRT workers off the School District's books have hit roadblocks in the past. In 2007, then-schools chief Paul Vallas urged the city to pay its own bills. Tom Brady, Vallas' interim successor, also tried and failed.
Now, new SRC chairman Robert Archie is arguing that having the district pay for the BRT workers is inefficient. He says their pay should be handled by the city.
The BRT patronage workers are mostly untrained clerks who answer telephones, pull deeds, and file paperwork. Many are ward leaders and committeemen, whose best efforts are put forth to elect party-backed candidates. Some are related to elected officials. At least two BRT patronage hires have criminal records.
BRT board members say they would rather have unrestricted funds from the School District, so they could hire more trained assessors. What a novel concept - trained professionals doing property assessments. By all means, get trained personnel. But don't use school money to pay them.
It's time to stop running the BRT like a patronage mill.
Executive director Enrico Foglia, a longtime committeeman with ties to Brady, started as a clerk in 1972 and now oversees the 200 BRT employees. He has only a high-school degree, and isn't qualified to assess property, yet makes nearly $100,000 a year.
The BRT's seven board members work only about two months a year but are paid $70,000 to $75,000 each. Every board member was picked because of his or her political connections.
The School District is absolutely right to try to stop having to fund the BRT patronage jobs. But there are broader problems at the BRT, and they can't be fixed with a little patching and painting.
The agency needs to be taken apart and rebuilt. Both top management and the board need to be replaced. And patronage hacks need to find real jobs.