During public hearings on the closing of city schools, arguments were made about whether the School District of Philadelphia was always making the right decisions.
Parents, teachers and community leaders presented their cases to the School Reform Commission that their individual schools should be protected from closing.
But once the SRC made the decision to close, it should have been a no-brainer that the shuttered schools should be sold as quickly as possible to help fund the financially strapped district.
That’s why it was good news last week when it was announced that Mayor Michael Nutter and City Council members have agreed that the city will provide a one-time $50 million loan to the district, using school properties as collateral.
After taking some time to reach an agreement, it appears the city is now on the move.
Information on 31 properties could appear on the district’s website as early as Wednesday, said Alan Greenberger, deputy mayor for economic development and director of commerce for Philadelphia
Officials said an open invitation is being extended to all bidders interested in buying an individual property, multiple properties or even the entire portfolio of school buildings.
The sale of the school buildings, along with a more equitable state funding formula and other city initiatives including a proposed cigarette sales tax that needs to be approved by the state legislature, can help bring some financial stability to the city’s struggling school district.
Nutter said he hopes to meet soon with the chief executive of Washington, D.C.-based Municipal Acquisitions to discuss an offer to buy more than 30 shuttered buildings.
Council President Darrell Clarke said seven closed school buildings are drawing interest from other parties, including Temple University and Drexel University.
Whether these buyers pan out or other interested parties appear, the district will need to carefully vet bids for the shuttered school buildings through a thorough and transparent public process.
On Tuesday, Nov. 5, Pennsylvania voters will get the chance to cast their ballots in several important races.
While this is not an election to elect the next president, senator, governor or mayor it is an election that will decide who sits on the bench, prosecute our laws and serve as a fiscal watchdog of local government.
In Philadelphia, candidates will be on the ballot for District Attorney, City Controller and several local and statewide judicial races.
In the top two local races for District Attorney and Controller we endorse the incumbents, both of whom may be eyeing a future run for mayor.
We endorse the re-election of District Attorney Seth Williams. Williams’ smart approach on crime is working. Reassigning prosecutors geographically so that they are working together with neighborhood police departments makes sense. Conviction rates are up 14 percent. Williams has been aggressive, smart and innovative in restructuring and refocusing the district attorney’s office in the battle to fight crime.
Williams has not been afraid to take on the tough controversial cases including the successful prosecutions of abortionist Kermit Gosnell and a pedophile priest in the Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
In addition to crime-fighting initiatives, Williams has initiated an innovative alternative-to-incarceration program and a program to reduce recidivism without compromising public safety.
We also endorse the re-election of City Controller Alan Butkovitz for doing a good job as the city’s chief fiscal watchdog in exposing waste, fraud and mismanagement in local government. In a heavily Democratic-run city, Democrat Butkovitz has done a good job of staying independent enough to appropriately criticize and give scrutiny to the Democratic administration of Mayor Michael Nutter. His office also conducted fact finding that resulted in enforcement action against a contractor for cheating on minority contracting, and uncovering a violation of health and safety rules by developers in North Philadelphia.
In Montgomery County, we endorse Steven Tolliver to fill one of the two vacancies on the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas.
Tolliver is an accomplished barrister, with more than 30 years of experience trying cases in both state and federal courts. Tolliver is past regional director of the National Bar Association and a member of the Hearing Review Committee of the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. Tolliver is recommended by the Montgomery County Bar Association Judiciary Committee.
Our choice for sheriff of Delaware County is Republican Mary McFall Hopper.
Her legal background makes her well-equipped for the responsibilities she faces as Delaware County sheriff.
Hopper’s 23-years of experience as an attorney and her service on Ridley Park Borough Council makes her well qualified to be sheriff.
Don’t forget to vote. Polling places are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Food stamp recipients will see a major cut in their monthly benefits today when a temporary benefit from the 2009 stimulus that boosted food stamp dollars will expire.
Beginning Nov. 1, a family of four receiving food stamps will receive $36 less a month, according to the Agriculture Department.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), U.S. food-stamp program now cost almost $80 billion a year.
The automatic cuts scheduled for Friday will reduce about $5 billion from federal food stamp spending over the coming year.
In addition to the cuts scheduled for Friday, more cuts are expected to follow.
House and Senate negotiators met this week to begin crafting a compromise farm bill, including cuts to the food stamp program.
The talks opened, just days before food stamp recipients saw the separate, unrelated cut in their monthly benefits.
The House farm bill would cut food stamps by $4 billion annually and change eligibility and work requirements. The Senate bill would cut a tenth of that amount.
The five-year farm bill totals about $500 billion.
Republican lawmakers are seeking to reinstate limits on able-bodied, childless adults aged 18 to 50 and restrict their ability to collect limited benefits unless they worked more than 20 hours per week or enrolled in job-training programs.
In addition to seeking to reduce the amount of food aid received. Conservatives are also seeking to reduce the number of people eligible to received food assistance.
Contrary to the view espoused by some conservatives, food stamps provide a vital need that increases in a bad economy. In many states these requirements cannot be met because unemployment is so high.
While reducing dependency is always a worthy goal, aid should not be done in a ruthless way that disregards the state of the struggling economy.
These cuts will further hurt those who are already hurting in a weak economy that is not creating enough jobs.
These changes will result in millions of people either receiving significant cuts in food aid or no longer eligible to receive food assistance.
SNAP provides food aid to 14 percent of all U.S. households – some 47 million people. Those numbers increased dramatically during the recession.
While the amount of food aid is being dramatically reduced the need for that aid has not changed.
The Supreme Court recently heard arguments over a 2006 change to the state constitution to prohibit the University of Michigan and other state schools from any consideration of race when they decide whom to admit.
The case Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action was heard by the high court on Oct. 15.
During the arguments, Michigan Solicitor General John Bursch acknowledge that “diversity is a goal on campus that should be pursued,” but characterized the Michigan measure, Proposal 2 as an attempt to “move past the day we always focused on race.”
Many on the court seemed inclined to uphold a voter-approved ban on taking account of race in college admissions.
Chief Justice John Roberts wondered how there could be a problem with voters saying: “We want to take race off the table and achieve diversity without racial preferences.”
While Bursch and Roberts acknowledge the importance of diversity on campus they oppose a proven method to achieve the worthy goal.
The justices must ask themselves why affirmative action should be treated differently than other groups seeking preferential treatment in admissions. Why should only race be off the table? The affirmative action ban forces supporters of racial diversity to a different and more surmountable obstacle than advocates of legacy status or athletic talent in the admissions process.
Race is just one of many factors colleges should consider in admissions. The majority of students are and continue to be admitted based on their high school class rank.
Affirmative Action remains necessary to provide the kind of diverse educational experience the Supreme Court has previously endorsed
The Supreme Court should affirm a lower court’s decision striking the Michigan law for inhibiting efforts to promote racial diversity at the state’s public universities.
The School District of Philadelphia and several other school districts in Pennsylvania will continue to face annual austere budget cuts and fiscal crises unless the state changes how it funds public education.
Tribune education reporter Wilford Shamlin III reports that “Half of more than 500 school districts surveyed statewide anticipate coping with financial distress by 2015.”
Shamlin further reports: “A costing-out study commissioned during Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell’s administration came up with a more equitable funding formula that was abandoned when Republican Gov. Tom Corbett took office. In that time the commonwealth’s contribution to public schools decreased from 46 percent to 34 percent, placing Pennsylvania near the bottom in a national ranking of state spending on public education.”
Many education observers say the costing-out study, commissioned in 2008, established a universal baseline that provided adequate funding for public schools. The observers say it was a better formula and increased funding to poorer districts.
“Philadelphia has been hit uniquely hard since Corbett came into office,” said Darren Spielman, CEO and president of the Philadelphia Education Fund. ‘Therefore, a vulnerable population has been hit hard. We need to catch up with the rest of the country when it comes to our funding formula.”
The Education Law Center in Philadelphia released a report in February that said Pennsylvania and North Carolina are the only states that do not account for additional factors that push operating costs higher when it comes to distributing state aid to public schools.
The other states consider more factors in their decision-making on school funding.
Other states provide incremental increases in state aid for factors such as current enrollment figures, district poverty, cost of living and the district’s ability to raise tax revenue in support of local school districts.
Many states also increase school funding based on the number of students in special education programs, those who speak different languages or come from low-income households.
Pennsylvania’s constitution mandates that the legislature “provide for maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education,” and the state itself runs the Philadelphia School District after a 2001 takeover.
So it is imperative that Corbett and state lawmakers develop a more fair and equitable school funding formula.