by Diane Payne
Board President Joyce Wilkerson opened this remote Action Meeting with praise and thanks to the University of Pennsylvania for its $100 million donation–$10 million over the next 10 years–toward the abatement of lead and asbestos in District schools.
For years, public school advocates have fought to have Penn and other large non-profit institutions to pay at least part of their fair share of taxes on their profit-making properties through PILOTS (Payment in lieu of taxes).
That fight has escalated as the District faces dire budget projections as a result of loss of tax revenues during the pandemic. Is there no other way for the District to pay for fixing toxic schools other than taking charity? APPS’ recent report on Renaissance charter schools shows that the District spends hundreds of millions every year to sustain a program that has not, by any metric, been a success in improving schools. (In just one example, the District allocated $30 million last year to Aspira, Inc. to operate two Renaissance charters–even after the Board voted not to renew after they failed to meet all standards.) Penn has a $15 billion endowment. Paying its full share of taxes would have Penn paying approximately $100 million per year. Advocates have estimated that PILOTS would produce 40% of that, or close to $40 million per year. The District and the media may paint Penn as generous, but the reality is they are getting off cheap. Advocates vow to keep the pressure on Penn and the other mega nonprofits in the city to do their part and pay their fair share.