Cutting spending isn't enough for schools

Darrell Clarke
Darrell Clarke
Posted: May 28, 2012

More than 1,000 people took to the streets Wednesday in Center City to protest a School Reform Commission proposal to address an overwhelming budget deficit that includes drastic cuts, including possible layoffs for more than 2,700 blue-collar workers.

Despite union leaders’ portrayal of the blueprint as a ruse just to privatize jobs, the SRC would be hard pressed to mount a credible defense of its plea for additional funds from the city if it didn’t show that it was ready to do whatever it takes to keep the district out of bankruptcy.

With a projected $218 million deficit for the 2012-13 school year, the district’s condition is critical. Hard decisions must be made, and everyone — from bus drivers to teachers to administrators — must understand that pain is unavoidable.

The district is banking on an additional $94 million from the city, but Mayor Nutter’s proposal to provide those funds has run into legitimate opposition.

Nutter wants to use a long-overdue adjustment of property values in the city as the mechanism to raise the needed $94 million. But the City Council must set tax rates to finish writing next year’s budget now, and the reassessments haven’t been completed.

Critics rightly say it is unfair to give residents and businesses tax bills with rates that don’t reflect their property’s actual value. So what should be done?

Council President Darrell L. Clarke introduced four bills Thursday that would provide the schools with an additional $85 million, either through an increase in the city’s use-and-occupancy tax for commercial and industrial property owners (which Councilman Bill Green has also proposed) or an increase in real estate taxes.

A tax hike is a hard sell, even to Philadelphians who know providing children a decent education is the key to solving so many of the city’s social and crime problems.

What Clarke and the mayor need to remind people of is what residents in the surrounding suburbs are paying in taxes to make sure their children are getting a good education in a secure setting.

The district is trying get a handle on spending, but schoolchildren will suffer if the fight over taxes leaves them without the additional public support they need.

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