Chronic absenteeism — one of the major, yet under-discussed problems plaguing public education — won the attention of more than a dozen mayors who supported a proclamation and call to action during the recently concluded Conference of Mayors.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter – recently promoted as the organization’s president – also co-signed the resolution, authored by Providence, Rhode Island Mayor Angel Taveras. The resolution includes significant portions of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan, which calls for greater neighborhood accountability, and the strengthening of New York’s grade-level reading program.
Bloomberg created the Chronic Absenteeism and Truancy Task Force in 2010, and the program is now running in 50 New York City public schools. Bloomberg’s strategy included the sharing of early-warning data throughout the stakeholder network; school personalization geared toward 4,000 of the most at-risk students; the cultural reinforcement of the merits of attending school on a regular basis; data-driven accountability for teachers and school administrators, and a better in-school healthcare system.
“Kids who are chronically absent are more likely to drop out of school or become involved in juvenile crime — outcomes we will not accept,” Bloomberg said in statement released by the conference. “In New York, we’ve made great gains in reducing chronic absenteeism, and know there is more work to do here and across the country.
“The resolution from the US Conference of Mayors makes this issue the priority it needs to be so that our students are in school every day.”
Nutter, Bloomberg and Taveras were joined by former NBA player and Sacramento, Ca. Mayor Kevin Johnson, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, Oakland, Ca. Mayor Jean Quan, Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado, Pembroke Pines, Fla. Mayor Frank Ortis and West Sacramento, Ca. Mayor Christopher Cabaldon in supporting the measure.
“For our cities to close the achievement gap and reduce dropout rates, we must get a handle on chronic absenteeism at every letter,” Taveras said in a statement released by the conference. “No matter how much we improve our schools, it won’t matter if kids are not in their seats to benefit. Ending chronic absenteeism requires all hands on deck.”
According to education officials, when a student misses 10 percent of the school year in all three categories – excused, unexcused and disciplinary – that student is considered to be truant; Nationally, one out of ten – an even ten percent – of all kindergarteners miss at least one month of school per school year; a recent Johns Hopkins University/Get Schooled Foundation report painted an even bleaker picture, noting that as many as 7.5 million students nationwide miss about a month of school every year.
Locally, the numbers are harder to pin down, but several reports show that 2,500 School District of Philadelphia students are absent on any given school day.
The resolution calls for the mayors to adopt three broad measures upon return to their respective cities. They are to raise public awareness about truancy and the dire consequences of acute absenteeism, encourage stakeholder engagement and generate excitement with parents to get their children to attend school on a regular basis, and finally, encourage schools to publish chronic absenteeism data, along with average daily attendance figures.
While a tough sell, especially given the other mitigating factors confronting school district throughout the country, educators believe this to be a crucial and necessary step.
“The mayors’ decision to champion chronic absence will ensure that more cities monitor this important data point and use it to guide action,” said Ralph Smith, the managing director of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and also serves as senior vice president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. “This is a problem we can solve when we begin to look at the right data.”
All 70 of the city’s pools will be open this summer, with full funding from the city; Mayor Michael Nutter announced Monday at the Awbury Recreation Center in Mount Airy.
“Nothing means summer like the opening of our pools,” said the mayor, conspicuous in his suit and tie as he spoke to a group of kids anxiously waiting to leap in the water.
Nutter did not take a plunge into the pool — a Philadelphia tradition started by former Gov. Ed Rendell, but said he had planned to.
“I fully expected to do that today,” he told reporters, adding that because of time constraints he couldn’t. “It takes extra time … I have to comb my hair.”
He was joined by Councilwoman Cindy Bass and Recreation Commissioner Susan Slawson and about 40 kids who helped them celebrate by jumping into the pool as Nutter sounded a lifeguard’s whistle, officially marking the start of summer.
This is the first year the city has been able to fully fund pool operations since the financial crisis ravaged the city’s budget just prior to the 2009 pool season. For the last three years the city has asked for donations to raise the money to open the pools through private donations. Even with the budget uncertainty this year the city was able to cover the complete cost this year.
Nutter also took a few seconds to discuss the other summer programs taking place throughout the city.
“No one should be complaining this summer that they are bored and don’t have anything to do,” he said.
Among the most important programs is the Summer Meals Program.
As Nutter spoke, city officials laid out pre-packaged lunches for children visiting the pool. Last year the city served 2.8 million meals to 900,000 children through the program. But, Nutter noted that about 41,000 kids who could have taken part in the program — based on free and reduced lunch data from the school district — failed to do so.
This year meals will be provided between June 18 and Aug. 31, to children up to 18. All the child has to do is show up.
Meals are served at about 1,000 sites across the city at schools, recreation centers, YMCAs, churches, playgrounds, play streets or city parks
On a sterner note, the mayor also reminded the city’s youth that the end of the school year meant more stringent curfew guidelines. Children 13 years old and younger must be off the street by 9 p.m.; youngsters 14 and 15 by 10 p.m. and youth 16 and 17 by 11 p.m.
“We are serious about enforcing the curfew,” Nutter said, adding that police would use their discretion when needed. As an example, the mayor used a teen with a summer job.
“If you have a summer job that keeps you out past curfew you will not automatically be in trouble if you show the officer your ID,” he said.
The city enacted a new curfew last summer after a series of high profile crimes — notably flash mobs in Center City — involving the city’s youth.
The Police Athletic League has a long history of successfully helping young people build their confidence and self-esteem, while at the same time, encouraging them to seek careers in public service.
On Wednesday, Mayor Michael Nutter, District Attorney Seth Williams and 24 other city officials donated their time to mentor 26 students from across the city in the 2012 Lockheed Martin PAL Day at City Hall — a special event that allows the students to partner with a city official to experience how local government works. The students take an actual oath of office and then shadow their partnered city officials for the remainder of the day.
“PAL Day at City Hall offers an opportunity to encourage and support the development of highly motivated students who may consider a career in government some day,” said Nutter, honorary president of PAL. “Through Lockheed Martin, PAL Day at City Hall and other partnerships, the city continues to invest heavily in building effective and positive mentoring models to engage our children and youth.”
The young people selected to participate were representatives from each of the 26 PAL centers across the city — from North and South Philadelphia to Kensington, Nicetown and Logan. The students are recognized for their academic achievements and community service — the young people that city residents don’t hear enough about.
“For 40 years, kids have been coming to City Hall to see and learn how their government works,” said city representative Melanie Johnson, who encouraged the PAL participants to become involved in the professional world through internships and networking. She also encouraged them to seek careers in public service and government. “PAL Day connects promising students with workplace leaders, so they can gain insight on the skill necessary to succeed in a professional setting. These students have great futures ahead of them and we want to make every effort to move them along that path. Being here can be a life changing experience for them.”
PAL began in 1947 with Sgt. Gus Rangnow and a few volunteer officers organizing local kids to play sports. The events they organized proved successful, and with the help of Howard P. Sutton, the superintendent of police, a district sports program began to promote a better relationship between police officers and the youth of the community. PAL continued to grow in popularity and in 1949, it incorporated as a non-profit organization. In Philadelphia 26,000 students participate in some form of PAL activity.
“This is a great opportunity for these young men and women to see how government works behind the scenes. Each of the city officials has donated their time to allow these exceptional students to learn from them,” said Gerry Fasano, president of Lockheed Martin. “This is impressive and reassuring and validates our hopes for the future. We as leaders have one thing in common; we’re spending our time to listen and to learn from these young people.”
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was in Philadelphia on Monday with Mayor Michael Nutter to announce the awarding of a Justice Department grant that would put additional police officers on the city’s streets.
Philadelphia was one of 220 cities and counties to receive a Community Oriented Policing Services or COPS grant. The grant of $3.125 million will partially fund salaries and benefits of 25 police officers through a three-year period. In addition, the officers must be individuals who are military veterans who have served their country for a minimum of 180 days since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“The recipients of the Community Oriented Policing Services hiring awards will strengthen law enforcement agencies across the country,” Holder said. “There are 220 cities and counties that will divide $111 billion dollars that will create and save jobs for police officers across the country. Two hundred will be saved from layoffs, and the new officers that are hired are military veterans — 600 of them have served abroad.”
In 2009, Holder was in Philadelphia announcing a similar grant that helped Philadelphia put 50 additional police officers on the streets to fight crime. Last Friday, the Philadelphia Police Academy graduated it 360th class of 30 new police officers, who will be serving in some of the city’s most crime troubled neighborhoods.
“Boots on the ground are part of the answer to keeping our communities safe. Officers on the beat are a welcome presence and if it’s done right, indispensible in making community policing a reality. The Department of Justice’s COPS grant will help Philadelphia to hire highly qualified, committed officers who will work in the neighborhoods that need their presence the most,” said Nutter. “This COPS grant will help the city improve public safety, lower the crime rate and continue the policies that work. I would like to thank our congressional delegation, Attorney General Holder, Director Melekian and the entire team at the Department of Justice for choosing to invest in the Philadelphia Police Department.”
Holder said that the $111 billion is being awarded nationally to local public safety agencies across the country. The list of this year’s grantees includes Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pa.; Chicago, Ill.; Boston, Mass.; Atlanta, Ga.; Trenton, N.J.; Alameda County and Los Angeles, Calif.; Akron, Ohio; and Tacoma, Wash. The COPS Office will work with Veteran Affairs transition service centers across the country to connect veterans with the new grant-funded law enforcement opportunities.
“This new opportunity for veterans is a commitment to support those who are coming home from their tour of duty,” said Bernard Melekian, COPS office director. “We sincerely hope this effort encourages our veterans to continue to protect and serve the United States through new law enforcement careers.”
The Community Oriented Policing Services Office came into being in 1994. That year, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act passed the House and Senate. The measure put in place an $8.8 billion dollar financial expenditure over a six-year period and the COPS office was created to disburse and monitor the money.
“As the ranking member of the Appropriations subcommittee, overseeing the Department of Justice COPS program is one of my highest priorities,” said U.S. state Representative Chaka Fattah. “This national program will provide $111 billion to municipalities across the country, $3.125 million to Philadelphia specifically, bridging the gap between tight budgets and the need for a robust police force. Making communities safer is a responsibility that must be shared by all levels of government, and I’m pleased that Philadelphia is receiving this funding.”
The COPS Office is a federal agency responsible for advancing community policing nationwide. Since 1995, COPS has awarded more than $12 billion to advance community policing, including grants awarded to 13,000 state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies to fund the hiring and redeployment of about 124,000 officers and provide a variety of knowledge resource products, including publications, training and technical assistance.
“As a proud supporter of the COPS Hiring Program and the Community Policing Program, I know that our city will be safer because of the new officers this grant will help Philadelphia hire. This competitively awarded grant confirms what Philadelphians all know. The men and women of the Philadelphia police department are among America’s best. It also shows the faith that national leadership has in Mayor Nutter, Commissioner Ramsey and the direction they have taken the department,” said U.S. Rep. Bob Brady.
Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said it was a privilege to hire returning veterans, many of whom have had difficulty finding work after their military service has ended.
“The bottom line is that police matter. Our partnership with the COPS office has always been very strong, and we are extremely grateful for its support,” Ramsey said. “Our federal partners know that local police are vital to the health and growth of our cities. It is a privilege to be able to hire returning vets and enlist them into our crime fighting mission here in the Philadelphia Police Department.”
Occupy Philly and the city seem poised for a confrontation as concerns over public safety and health issues — exacerbated by new allegations of a rape Saturday night in the sprawling tent city — and plans to renovate Dilworth Plaza move forward.
“Occupy Philly has changed,” Mayor Michael Nutter said in a statement issued on the weekend after the alleged rape in the encampment of several hundred people in Dilworth Plaza on the west side of City Hall. “We’re seeing serious health and safety issues playing out on almost a daily basis. The people of Occupy Philly have also changed, and their intentions have changed … and all of this is not good for Philadelphia.”
He also announced that police would begin regular foot patrols through the makeshift city of tents and tarps.
The move came after reports of a rape there Saturday night. Police are investigating the allegations made by a 25-year-old woman from Atlantic City, who said she was assaulted at about 7:45 p.m. A 50-year-old man was arrested late Saturday, but has not been charged.
Administration officials have quietly been worrying about how to deal with Occupy Philly for several weeks, but hoping to avoid provocation, have done nothing. On Sunday, Nutter ran down a list of grievances. Demonstrators lack a permit, public urination and defecation have been reported and the encampment has been attracting more and more homeless people.
In addition, Nutter said the encampment has also been drawing political radicals.
“We’ve seen the rise of new groups as a part of this movement — like the Radical Caucus, which is bent on civil disobedience and disrupting city operations,” he said.
Demonstrators have occupied Dilworth Plaza for 41 days.
Plans for the renovations to the plaza — expected to cost $50 million — have been in the works for more than year. There is no firm date for construction to begin, but “it’s coming soon,” said Nutter’s spokesman Mark McDonald. That could force the Occupiers to disband or moved to a new site.
Knowing that, several Occupy general assemblies have been held to debate the possibility of a move. Several ideas have been discussed, including a move to the nearby plaza adjoining the Municipal Services Building.
But on Friday night, members of the group voted in general assembly not to vacate Dilworth Plaza.
Nutter said the city was intent on avoiding a confrontation, but chided the group for its vote, which could disrupt plans for the plaza remodel.
“Occupy Philly is now purposely standing in the way of nearly 1,000 jobs for Philadelphians at a time of high unemployment. They are blocking Philadelphians from taking care of their families,” he said.
Some demonstrators said the mayor’s concerns about the renovations were simply a pretext for the city to expel them.
“Forget this crap about re-doing Dilworth Plaza,” said Bob Magee. “Nutter wants Occupy away, so the Christmas and Hanukkah shoppers aren’t offended … this is what it was about all along and now he’s setting up his pretext to clean out the Occupy encampment.”
Some sort of showdown seems inevitable, agreed Jacob Russell.
“It is wishful thinking to believe power will surrender power without strategic confrontation,” said Russell. “There is no ‘safe’ place to move, unless it be somewhere completely out of sight and with no possibility of exerting pressure on established power.”
Like hundreds of Occupy demonstrations the world over, protesters in Philadelphia started out voicing their concerns about corporate greed and government corruption. Unlike other demonstrations, some of which have been wracked by violence, the Philadelphia movement has remained peaceful. There have been 25 arrests in a couple of incidents where protestors have been charged with trespassing or obstructing the street, but Philadelphia has avoided the kind of violence that has marked the protests in Oakland, Calif. and Portland, Ore.
Occupy movements across the nation appeared to be in a state of flux over the weekend.
According to the Associated Press, police in Portland and Oakland cleared out Occupy encampments on Sunday and Monday. In Salt Lake City, Utah, 19 people were arrested on Saturday when protesters refused to leave a park a day after a man as found dead inside his tent. Twenty-four people were arrested in Albany, N.Y. after they remained in a state-owned park after it closed at 11 p.m. In Denver, Colo., authorities arrested four people as they forced protesters to leave a downtown encampment. In San Francisco, police said two demonstrators attacked two police officers in separate incidents during a march.
New law here requires some city service contractors to provide same-sex, married couples equal benefits
Companies doing business with the city will now be required to offer the same benefits to life partners as to spouses, under a bill signed into law on Monday by Mayor Michael Nutter.
“We’re focused for fairness and equality for all,” Nutter said at a special signing ceremony held at City Hall, along with the bill’s author Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown.
“The City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection has the strongest [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] protections in the region, and quite possibly across the country.”
Under the new law, which will go into affect July 1, 2012, businesses that have contracts worth more than $250,000 with the city will be required to offer life partners the same benefits as they offer spouses.
Those benefits include health insurance, bereavement leave, family medical leave, membership discounts and moving expenses. In order to be eligible for equal benefits, employees must meet the standard of proof for a life partnership.
Adding those benefits would add about 1 percent to the cost of benefits packages for most large companies, according to official estimates while adding about a 20 percent value to benefit packages for an individual employee.
Thirteen other municipalities — states, cities and counties — already have similar legislation. The city of Philadelphia passed its life partners policy in 1998.
Unlike the late 1990s when the city passed its life partner bill, Brown noted that the bill passed unanimously and without opposition in City Council last week.
“Twenty years ago the Catholic church waged a campaign against two of our colleagues — councilmen James Kenney and Frank DiCicco — who supported pro-LGBT legislation,” she said. “Here we stand two decades later, and not one single person appeared to testify against the Equal Benefits Ordinance.”
Brown the said the law was a personal matter for her.
“I spent many years in the dance arts community, and I got a chance to make lots of friends who were members of the LGBT community,” she said. “I got a chance to see them, unfortunately, treated awfully.”
That prompted a lifelong desire to want to help their cause, she said.
“It deeply sensitized me to the challenges that many in the community face,” said Brown. “So to now be in a place on the public policy side, to register my voice and make a small difference, I welcome that.”
The legislation was lauded by gay activists and human rights officials.
“The purpose of the law is simple — equal treatment,” said Rue Landau. “Its passage would fall in line with the strong history of commitment the City has to promoting equality for LGBT community.”
Eligible city service contractors must notify all employees of this extended benefit provision. If a contractor fails to comply with the new law, the city can void the contract. In addition, the contractor may be suspended or barred from bidding on or participating in City contracts for up to three years. Under certain circumstances, the City of Philadelphia can exempt a service contractor from compliance.
Ramping up the public pressure on Mayor Michael Nutter, several thousand firefighters descended on city hall Thursday, screaming for the mayor to honor a recent contract award with the International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 22.
“Honor our contract. Implement the award,” chanted Bill Gault, president of Local 22, leading as many as 3,500 firefighters from the Pennsylvania Convention Center to city hall. “This is about a mayor who has no respect for the people who save lives for a living.”
Nutter was clearly the target for the group’s anger. His face was plastered on signs — some with the word “liar” printed across his forehead and others with “binding?” emblazoned across his face.
The mayor was out of town Thursday and could not be reached for comment.
Firefighters and the administration have been sparring for several years over a contract. Earlier this week, Local 22 filed suit to compel the administration to act.
Local 22 was awarded a contract on July 2 by a panel of three arbitrators. It granted union members a 9 percent pay raise and protected them from furlough days while at the same time forcing changes in members’ pension and health care plans.
Under the terms of the agreement, back dated to July 1, 2009, and very similar to a previous agreement, the city would contribute more to members’ health care and benefits, but new hires would be forced into a 401(k) type retirement plan.
The ruling was the most recent skirmish in the contract fight, which dates to 2010 when arbitrators awarded a contract that was also appealed by the city, and ultimately set aside.
That was worrisome for union officials far beyond Philadelphia, who were concerned that the Nutter administration had appealed a previous award, and now appears to be ignoring another, could set a nationwide precedent.
Gault, noting that Nutter is the president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, accused him of plotting with other mayors in a coordinated attack on firefighters.
“He’s with a bunch of other mayors plotting on how he can take your benefits away,” Gault said to a chorus of boos. “And, he’s supposed to be a Democrat.”
Union officials seemed genuinely concerned that the administration’s actions may set the tone for negotiations in the U.S. and Canada.
“Our members expect the fair treatment of a process,” said Harold Schaitberger, president of IAFF. “A process that says if two parties can’t agree, a neutral third party is going to come in and arbitrate a decision. If he doesn’t implement this award, he is going to deal with the full force of this international.”
Schaitberger added that the IAFF was gearing up for elections later this year, and planned on backing only candidates that supported their cause.
“We follow one principle: Those willing to stand with us, we’re willing to stand with,” he said. “The flip side of that is, you screw our members, you do the wrong thing … and we are going to use every political ability, every political dollar that we have to get you. I don’t care if you’re a Democrat or a Republican.”
One mayor, Tony Spitaleri, mayor of Sunnyvale, Calif., who is also a retired firefighter, said honoring the contract was a mayor’s duty. He compared Nutter’s tactics to those of a terrorist.
“The domestic enemies that you have across the country are mayors and we’re going to fight back,” said Spitaleri. “So I say from this mayor to you — do the right thing and give these guys what they deserve.”
Walter R. Livingston, Jr. didn’t live a life of too many regrets. But one thing that haunted the activist, architect and former chairman of the board of the Philadelphia Tribune was having been forced to place his father into a senior care center.
“His spirit was broken and my father saw that,” Livingston’s daughter, Margaret, said of her father. “That was when he said, ‘I’m going to take a special interest during my time as an architect in building facilities where things like this won’t happen.’”
Livingston died in June of this year at the age of 89. However, part of his legacy lives on today in the Apartments at Cliveden, 62 new units of affordable housing in the 300 block of West Johnson Street. At least half are partially subsidized.
Livingston, who served on the board of the residence’s parent company, NewCourtland, was honored – his family was presented with the Ephraim D. Saunders award for exceptional acts of community service – at the Monday opening of the $14.6 million facility.
Mayor Michael Nutter and Congressman Chaka Fattah both addressed a group of a little more than 100 people gathered in a cramped dining room for the occasion. Both Nutter and Fattah lauded the marriage of public and private supporters that – along with significant stimulus money – are the financial lifeblood of the project. Supporters included PNC Bank, Federal Home Loan Bank, Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency and the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority.
Nutter, who grew up in West Philadelphia, told the story of how he grew up with his grandmother, who did not want to leave the city when his parents moved away but was limited in her ability to care for herself.
“This would have been a place where my grandmother could have come to,” Nutter said. “It is where my passion for seniors and senior housing comes from. This is a model we should be looking to replicate all across the city. It is the epitome of true public and private partnership.”
According to Nutter, of the 10 largest American cities, Philadelphia has the largest percentage of population 60 years old or older. He also said that more than 14 percent of the population is 65 or older and that that number is expected to double by 2035.
Nutter pointed out that last week Travel & Leisure Magazine named Philadelphia the top city in the country in the categories of history and culture. He said the city must do more to make the city more user-friendly for its aging population.
“We need safe and walkable streets so that seniors can get around and do what they need to do,” he said. “We need more businesses and organizations that really cater to the senior population. But the most important thing is that we need affordable housing to support it all, and this is what this is about.”
Nutter commended Livingston’s commitment to improving the lives of elderly Philadelphians. A practicing architect for more than 55 years, most recently with the Livingston Group in Colwyn, he and his firms were involved in the designs of such notable local sites as Zion Baptist Church, Triumph Baptist Church, Edison High School, Progress Plaza, the Clef Club and the Criminal Justice Center.
Livingston served on numerous other boards, including those of Berean Federal Savings Bank, the Youth Study Center, Stapely hall in Germantown, the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, and the American Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Cheyney University and a master’s degree in urban planning from the University of Pennsylvania.
“He had many, many interests,” said another daughter, Mary, who also serves on the Tribune board. “He did a lot of work involving seniors. He had a soft spot in his heart for families who could not afford elderly housing.”
The annual celebration of America’s Independence Day, with soaring entertainment in City Center including fireworks, is a bittersweet event for Philadelphians who are military veterans and homeless.
Philadelphia’s homeless population includes nearly 400 veterans, many of whom languish in Center City where those July 4th celebrations will occur.
It’s incredibly funky that military veterans find themselves with little recourse to resources required for adequate shelter, living on the streets and scuffling for food in a nation that spends billions fighting wars that really don’t make America safer.
During the past year America sank $118 billion into just the war in Afghanistan, a recent report from ABC News report stated.
Politicians who preen publicly as patriotic supporters of the military when spending on war too often treat homeless vets with disdain.
A 2011 report from the non-partisan Congressional Research Service stated the U.S. Congress had appropriated $1.27 trillion since the 9/11 incidents for military operations, base security, reconstruction, foreign aid, embassy costs and veterans health care.
Counting dollars in the billions and trillions easily boggles the mind but there’s some accounting that doesn’t require having a super-computer to help with calculations.
It’s clearly evident from simple arithmetic that just a small percentage of those billions/trillions routinely expended on the U.S. military could eliminate the dire funding problems facing Philadelphia’s deficit plagued city government that force reductions in services including help for the homeless.
Just cutting out constructing an aircraft carrier or closing a few of the one thousand military bases America operates in 150 foreign countries could put Philadelphia and other cities on firm financial footing for decades — without doing what conservatives consider sacrilegious: raising taxes on the wealthy.
Last Thursday, Philadelphia City Council took a small, symbolic step toward seeking sanity on America’s military spending.
Council approved a resolution calling on the U.S. Congress to redirect military spending to fund education, jobs in the public and private sectors plus restoration of the nation’s infrastructure and environment.
Funding for domestic needs would come from ending the war in Afghanistan and substantially cutting America’s military budget, stated the non-binding resolution introduced by Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez with the active support of Council colleagues like Blondell Reynolds Brown, W. Wilson Goode Jr. and Curtis Jones.
Content in that resolution listed Philly-centric circumstances crying out for increased federal funding like homeless military veterans, one-third of Philadelphia children living in poverty, one-third of all city residents reporting hardships with having adequate food to eat plus high rates of unemployment.
Now the prospect of the current, Republican-dominated Congress acting to slash military spending is slim to none — despite such actions benefitting constituents of those conservatives.
However, this resolution approved by Philadelphia’s City Council is a solid example of common sense, fiscal responsibility and democracy.
Similar resolutions have won approval in over one hundred cities (large and small) in nearly two dozen states from Maine to Oregon.
The fact that resolutions calling for Congress to use American government money to help Americans has support in nominally non-liberal places like Montana and North Carolina hasn’t immunized those resolutions from ignorant attacks.
A writer for a Michigan-based group that alleges its goal is “sensible education reform” castigated the Philadelphia resolution as the product of “radicals, malcontents and burned-out hippies” approved by Council to mask its miserable handling of “public money…”
The Delaware Valley New Priorities Network drafted the resolution approved by City Council, which underwent changes in language to gain support of some council members.
The Network is comprised of labor, neighborhood, faith and peace organizations, said Network member Ken Heard.
Heard pointed to polls stating 85 percent of African Americans opposed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq when addressing the misconception that anti-war/peace initiatives enjoy little support among Blacks.
“Two Black religious denominations went on record opposing the war in Iraq before any major white church group. All African-American members of City Council voted for this resolution,” Heard said.
Over half of the homeless veterans around America are African-American and Hispanic according to statistics compiled by national organizations.
Five days after Independence Day the administration of Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter will fight in federal court to preserve its ban on groups providing outdoor meals to the homeless inclusive of homeless vets.
Groups targeted by the Nutter administration’s ban are primarily the two dozen-plus religious groups serving meals on the Parkway who consider feeding the homeless their religious mission.
Ironically preserving religious freedom was one goal behind America fighting its War of Independence.
Nutter said his ban is to preserve dignity for the homeless plus ensuring safe food despite City officials having no reports of food-related illnesses from such outdoor feeding.
Critics of the ban, including those filing the lawsuit against the no-feeding policy, said there are no facilities available for Nutter’s envisioned indoor feeding plus Nutter’s designated outdoor area is adjacent to a City Hall construction site that is dusty and noisy with no seating space.
One of the parties suing Nutter is the Rev. Cranford Coulter of the King’s Jubilee who has provided meals to the homeless at 18th and the Parkway since 1989.
“The mayor talks about feeding indoors, but there is no space. Three homeless shelters are closing with no replacements,” Coulter said.
“Sharing food with the hungry is a part of the tradition of all major religions.”
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Fellowship Program.
With the possibility of a work stoppage that had the potential to disrupt school operations in the fall – and perhaps render thousands of workers unemployed in the process – the School District of Philadelphia and local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union reached a contract agreement that extends through August 2016.
In the end, district officials and union leadership recognized they need each other, especially in the face of the School Reform Commission’s attempts to close a budget gap for the coming school year that is approaching $300 million — and its requests for givebacks from its second-largest union.
The union represents 2,700 non-teaching district employees.
“This was a difficult process, but we came together because we are committed to our kids and our schools. The members of 32BJ SEIU recognize the dire crisis of public education, locally and nationally, and are stepping up to the plate to make real, difficult contributions for the good of Philadelphia’s public school students,” said SRC Chairman Pedro Ramos. “We appreciate their partnership, and especially look forward to working with them to find new, more effective ways to improve the climate in our schools with new cleaning standards and practices.”
The district, through austerity measures imposed by Chief Reform Officer Thomas Knudsen’s five-year Blueprint for Transforming Philadelphia’s Public Schools, had intended to save $156 through cuts to its personnel budget, which effectively restructured both the benefits program and wage costs.
The union seems to have acquiesced to the district’s demands, as this new contract will include more than $100 million in contributions going from the union to the district. The union has agreed to a number of concessions, including member pay-ins to the district ranging from $5 to $45, depending on each member’s income. According to the union, most of its members earn less than $40,000 annually.
The most significant concession made by the union could be its decision to forego planned wage increases and raises, while freezing all new salaries during the life of the contract. Further, the contract doesn’t provide for layoffs as the district looks to further streamline operations and shutter several obsolete, dangerous or failing schools.
There is also an infrastructure-related component included in the new contract, as it calls for the district to implement national standards of school cleanliness while giving principals more authority to partner with building engineers in regard to the upkeep and maintenance of their schools.
“It was a difficult process, but we are committed to work together over the next four years to support the fight for public education and to ensure the safety of our children,” said George Ricchezza, District 1201 Leader for 32BJ SEIU. “We are proud to be a part of the system, and we want to work with the district to try to close the budget shortfall.
“I am pleased to say that thousands of hard-working men and women who provide Philadelphia school children with a safe, clean, learning environment will still have a paycheck to help them pay the bills and support their families,” Ricchezza continued. “These are very real sacrifices for our children and schools — most blue collar school workers live in communities already reeling from high unemployment. Their salaries alone contribute almost 100 million per year to Philadelphia’s economy.”
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, who has both fought for funding through the establishment of the Actual Value Initiative and for the district to implement stiff measures to get a handle on its budget, is pleased by the consummation.
“I am pleased that the union reached an agreement with the School District. I commend the members of SEIU Local 32BJ for placing first the interests of students. By making necessary changes that bring us closer to fiscal stability at the School District, the membership has done its part in working toward the implementation of a very difficult shared sacrifice plan,” Nutter said in a statement released by his office moments after the deal was announced. “But much more work needs to be done by all of the education stakeholders, if the School Reform Commission is to move toward fiscal stability and its plans to improve public education for all Philadelphia children.”