Tuesday is Election Day in Philly. For the Philadelphia School District, it’s Groundhog Dog. The school district is facing yet another budget crisis. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported:
The city charter requires the school district to adopt its budget by May 30, but funding from the city and state are a giant question mark at this point, leading to the possibility that the district might violate the charter and go past its deadline for the second straight year.
In a similar situation last year, the SRC [School Reform Commission] opted to wait until receiving assurances from Council on a sales tax extension and other measures before passing a budget in late June. Green predicted that Council and the mayor would agree on a short term fix to help close the district’s $85 million projected deficit while they wait on the state, but no one knows for sure.
According to a recent poll, education is the most important issue for Philly voters.
Still, City Council ain’t got time for education. They’ll deal with the school budget deficit when they get around to it. In the meantime, Council is scheduled to vote on a bill sponsored by Councilman Bobby Henon that would authorize the Commissioner of Public Property to spend up to $7.26 million to acquire the land to build a prison. The bill was introduced on April 30 and referred to the Committee on Public Property and Public Works, which Henon chairs. A Council rule was suspended to allow for a vote on the bill on Thursday.
Why the rush? The price tag for the proposed prison is between $300 million and $500 million. The proposed prison is just that – a proposal by lame-duck Mayor Michael Nutter.
The new mayor will have the final say on spending priorities. In response to Decarcerate PA’s mayoral candidate survey, Jim Kenney, the likely next mayor, said he will not move forward on Nutter’s plan to expand the Philadelphia Prison System. He supports a moratorium on the construction of new jails and detention centers.
Get this: Henon said he found the condition of the House of Correction “deplorable.” Has he taken a tour of our public schools? Students are trapped in 100-year-old buildings without librarians, school nurses, guidance counselors or air conditioning.
900AM-WURD host Solomon Jones has been sounding the alarm about the new prison. Jones was the keynote speaker at the school district’s Family Education Summit:
I’m trying to tell you about principles. The only thing that stands between our kids and that prison is us. City Council has its priorities. Our priorities are these kids.
They know where that $300 million is coming from, but they don’t know where the money is coming from to close the school district’s $85 million deficit. We must make sure their priorities line up with ours. … The bottom line: If you have $300 million for a prison, then you have $85 million for the schools. Take it from the Capital Budget if you have to, but do what you have to do to fund our schools. … Vote on Tuesday, and then whoever doesn’t do what’s right by our schools, vote them out.
Doing what’s right means stopping Philly’s school to prison pipeline. City Council and the next mayor must be held accountable. To do so, we must turn Election Day into Accountability Day.