Testimony of Deborah Grill to the Board of Education, June 27, 2019

I want to discuss 3 action items today.

First, the lease with Drexel University. I don’t understand why Drexel, a university that has refused to pay PILOTS, now expects the District (in reality taxpayers) to pay any amount of money for the construction of the building which it will then lease from Drexel. So the leasee not only has to pay rent, but also has to contribute to the construction of the landlord’s building as well as pay for repairs and capital improvements. Sweet deal. The Action Item states that the District’s rent will be $12 a year. Is that a flat rate or is it $12 per square foot per year? That makes a big difference. Is there a guarantee that it will never go up, because the action item states that the parties will revisit the terms of that agreement every 5 years? What happens after the 35 year lease expires? This deal only underscores the irony of the District now renting a school building from Drexel on the site of the school building that it sold to Drexel a few year ago.

Second, the sale of Belmont school building to the charter operator. I don’t know where to begin. Why would the District sell it’s only catchment school in the area on the condition that it can buy it back at the same price plus the cost of improvements if the charter closes? Mr. Karp’s foundation will own a school building, rent it out to its charter at probably more than it paid the District to rent, and in addition to the tuition from the District, get a rent reimbursement from the state, in other words double dipping from the taxpayer trough. Another sweet deal. I can’t help but think that Mr. Karp views this sale as his consolation prize for his loss of 4601 Market St.

Third, MaST II charter’s generous enrollment increase—an increase needed because, as CEO John Swoyer has said, “More students allows us to borrow money, grow quicker.” And, MaST need those students to pay off the bonds they took out to pay for their Tacony facility, its expansion, and the remediation of the former industrial site on which the school sits. Again real estate, not education is what it seems to be all about. If you look at the proposed plans for the Tacony campus on the City Planning website, you will see a riverside location, 2 large buildings, and athletic fields circumvented by Delaware River nature trails. The value of the land and buildings, all tax free, can only go up as the neighborhoods abutting the Delaware River trails and parks become gentrified while MaST continues to mine students from neighboring public schools to secure public money for its real estate portfolio.

It is not your responsibility to facilitate profitable real estate deals for charter operators or universities. Your first responsibility is to the children in existing Philadelphia public schools. Vote no on the Belmont sale, the Drexel lease and the enrollment increase for MaST II.