Dear Honorable Michael A. Nutter, Honorable Darrell L. Clarke and Members of City Council:
We applaud your commitment to ensuring that Philadelphia schools open on time, with enough staff and resource to provide a proper education for the city’s children. We know you also share our conviction that securing the long-term sustainability and improvement of public schools is just as important.
There is a time for talk and a time for action. All of us have been talking for months now, and there are many good ideas being discussed, including the selling of surplus district property. But with schools set to open in less than four weeks, we have clearly arrived at a time for action. The action that is needed is a vote by City Council to approve the redirection of the 1 percent sales tax.
The first and most immediate reason is to enable the city borrowing $50 million for schools, as has been proposed. But just as important is the generation of $120 million in annual revenue for schools that becomes the linchpin of the School District’s fiscal sustainability plan.
We recognize this is far from a perfect solution. First, the District needs more than $50 million for the coming school year; it especially needs the $45 million in onetime funding from the state that is contingent on enacting much-needed reforms. It also very much needs those reforms, especially those that ensure teachers are working in schools and classrooms that are the best fit for their skills and experience. Second, borrowing money is never the ideal solution, especially for a district already bogged down by interest payments. Third, this is a step backward with regard to the city’s pension crisis. But while it is not a perfect option, it is the only option available now to fulfill the city’s obligation of providing quality education to its youth. This is the deal that was doable in Harrisburg. Once it’s done, all parties will have to work together to develop an alternative strategy for addressing the pension problem.
Now is not the time to play political chicken with our children’s education. There simply is not enough time to review, debate and enact any other plan. Schools need to open in September; there is not another option.
Our kids deserve to go to safe, high-quality schools next month. In a city with many challenges, there is no more important or immediate crisis. That is why we are calling on the Mayor and City Council to reach an agreement that will allow $120 million in annual tax revenue to go to the District, $50 million advanced right away, to guarantee that city schools open, safely and on time.
Philadelphia School Partnership