Good morning. My name is Deborah Grill.
I worked for 34 years in the Philadelphia School District as a classroom teacher, a school librarian and a literacy coach. For 15 of those years I was the librarian at Roosevelt Middles School — now an elementary school featured recently in a segment of the local ABC news. I was heartbroken to read about the terrible physical condition of the school, especially the library, once a lively resource for Roosevelt students and teachers; now just a flooded, moldy room. Of course, Roosevelt is only one of many district schools that have not been maintained.
In my years with the district I watched a series of CEOs and superintendents close schools, cut positions and outsource services to inferior vendors in an attempt to save money.
Now the district projects no budget deficits for the next couple of years. However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need more funds. Most schools don’t have libraries. There are fewer than 10 librarians left in the system. While every school has one counselor, many used to have 2 or more as well as one full time nurse. There are no full-time NTAs. Classroom aides are all but nonexistent. There may be no financial deficit, but there is still a large resource deficit.
I spent my last 4 years in the district at Germantown High School after my position was cut at Roosevelt. At that time the Alumni Association was working on a plan to refurbish the library’s dated book collection and antiquated computers. They took a small group of students to Springfield High School in Montgomery County to see what a 21st century school library looked like. Our students were amazed as they toured the library and were introduced to all of the print and electronic resources that library had to offer its students, and as we were leaving the library one of our students turned around to me and said, “I will never be able to compete with these students at college.”
It is time for the city and the state to fund our schools adequately so that our students can be competitive. There are ways you can do this without taxing those who can least afford it. You can start by putting an end to the real estate tax abatements. A recent city controller report found that 59% of the tax abatements go to just 6% of Philadelphia neighborhoods and the top zip codes for development would likely be profitable regardless of the abatements. Bart Blatstein’s 10 year abatement on his estimated $8 to $16 million Rittenhouse palace is an egregious example of how abatements benefit those who need them least.
Council must demand that large non-profits pay PILOTS. They use city services like fire protection, city police and local roads. Hospitals and wealthy universities like Temple, Penn and Drexel own significant amounts of tax-exempt property and are still expanding. I think it is ironic that institutions of higher education refuse to contribute to the support of the public school district of the city in which they are located and from which they draw students.
Council must move to audit the Philadelphia Parking Authority. They claim that their hands are tied by the law that defines the formula that distributes money from on-street parking, but they are simply shorting the school district and its students. As the portion to the city is guaranteed and grows with PPA revenues, the district’s portion is confined to whatever funds are left over. But on-street parking is not their only stream of revenue. Council needs to pressure them to find a way to supply the district with predictable and reliable revenues.
Finally, you need to keep an eye how the district uses its funds. It should not spend money on questionable programs while its buildings fall into disrepair and its students and teachers go without the resources they need to be successful.