Bar association chief targets school funding

William P. Fedullo addresses the annual meeting of the Philadelphia Bar Association at the Hyatt at the Bellevue.
William P. Fedullo addresses the annual meeting of the Philadelphia Bar Association at the Hyatt at the Bellevue. (DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer)
Posted: December 12, 2013

Incoming Philadelphia bar chancellor William P. Fedullo, in his inaugural address at the annual meeting of the city bar association Tuesday, called on the city's legal establishment to work to ease the funding crisis plaguing Philadelphia schools and said he would lead an effort to propose potential fixes.

Fedullo said funding shortfalls for public schools, a gap that was closed only when the state signed off on $45 million in emergency funding in October, effectively deny equal educational opportunity to city school students, and suggested the disparity between suburban schools and the city had created a two-tier system.

Nearly 60 years after the Supreme Court outlawed segregated schools with the Brown v. Board of Education decision, Fedullo suggested that Philadelphia schools' funding shortfalls had severely restricted opportunities for students and created yet another form of inequality.

"2014 will mark the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education," Fedullo, 64, said in his luncheon address to 500-plus lawyers at the Hyatt at the Bellevue. "Are we living up to the spirit of that ruling? It breaks my heart when I see articles telling us that the School District needs paper and tissues and No. 2 pencils."

Fedullo, who said he was establishing a task force to recommend solutions, said in an interview after the speech that he had no fixed ideas about how to grapple with the problem, except that more money would be needed.

"I don't have answers yet - I have questions," he said. "When you look at it, it fits in with Brown v. Board of Education. Is this a separate-but-equal situation?"

Fedullo, a trial lawyer with Rosen, Schafer & DiMeo L.L.P., focuses on medical malpractice and other personal-injury cases. He has spent the last year as vice chancellor of the association, which was founded in 1802 and is the oldest bar association in the nation. It has 13,000 members and has typically focused on legislative issues affecting its members, such as taxes levied on law firms.

Wading into the school-funding debate could place it in the middle of volatile and hotly contested political issues, going well beyond the immediate concerns of the legal profession.

New Jersey, for example, has long had a school-funding formula ordered by the state Supreme Court that directs hundreds of millions of dollars raised by state income taxes to urban schools while providing relatively little to suburban districts. The underlying idea is that suburban districts have sufficient local tax bases to finance their schools, and the formula has evened out once significant disparities. But the flow of funds to urban schools has triggered political pushback and has been sharply criticized by Gov. Christie.

Fedullo, who lives in Center City's Washington Square West neighborhood, said the bar association would look at many potential sources of funding.

"Do we raise taxes on fracking rights?" he asked. "There are a lot of available things to be taxed. I hate taxes myself, but let's find out the best possible way to fund the schools."


cmondics@phillynews.com

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@cmondics

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