Inquirer Editorial: Inexplicable behavior

A crowd gathered after the death of a student last week at Andrew Jackson Elementary School.
A crowd gathered after the death of a student last week at Andrew Jackson Elementary School. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 25, 2014

At various times during the course of human history, inexplicable incidences of irrational behavior by various groups of people have occurred - the 1518 "dancing plague" of Strasbourg, for example, or the 1962 "laughing epidemic" of Kashasha, Tanganyika - that behavioral experts later attributed to "mass hysteria."

Perhaps the same phenomenon explains why City Council is taking so long to fulfill its end of a bargain with the state legislature and extend a one-percentage-point sales-tax increase to bail out Philadelphia's fiscally foundering public schools.

An announcement by Council President Darrell Clarke last week suggested he has finally broken free of the delusion that had him blithely insisting he could get the legislature to agree to a different deal without even a hint from leaders of that body that he was right.

Clarke says he still wants half of the additional sales-tax money to be used to restore city employees' depleted pension fund to a healthy level. But his approval of a contingency plan in Council's enabling legislation would give the schools the entire sum if the legislature doesn't agree with his idea.

Even with the contingency, Clarke's continued pursuit of a 50-50 split of the tax money seems bizarre when one considers that pension relief is included in the bill the legislature has already passed, though it would occur at a slightly slower pace.

Just as bizarre has been the rest of Council's sitting on their hands, like zombies in a trance, while Clarke stood in the way of helping the schools.

If the School District gets the full $120 million that the sales-tax hike would bring, plus $75 million it hopes to get from a city cigarette tax, it will still be short of the $216 million it says it must have to open next fall.

Meanwhile, a first grader's death Wednesday at Andrew Jackson Elementary School has parents and others begging officials to rehire school nurses who were laid off due to the district's deficit. Having a staff nurse on duty may not have made a difference for that child, but the lack of nurses, counselors, teachers, aides, and other laid-off personnel is turning Philadelphia's already struggling public schools into mere warehouses for children.

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