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Oh says he can scrounge $70 million for Philly schools

By Tom MacDonald for NewsWorks on May 27, 2014 11:45 AM
Photo: Emma Lee/NewsWorks

Philadelphia City Councilman David Oh

With prospects of a cigarette tax for Philadelphia burning down in Harrisburg, a Republican councilman is searching the city's proverbial couch cushions for cash.  

City Councilman David Oh, one of three Republicans on council, said he and his staff have gone over Philadelphia's budget and taken some dollars from departments that appear to have too much money to cobble together more funding for the public schools.

"In the mayor's budget which he proposed, there is typically money that is somewhat in excess of what the department actually spends by the end of the year," Oh said. "When you add it all up, it's about $74 million that we could look at."

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Comments (30)

Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on May 27, 2014 3:01 pm
Check the chair cushions in council chambers. Sometimes they drop change when taking payoffs.
Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on May 27, 2014 4:18 pm

Oh's opposed to raising taxes on Philadelphians?   Who does he think will pay the increased sales tax and the cigarette tax, were it to pass?   Of course it's OK to nickel and dime poor people with sales and sin taxes.   What is verboten is going after the condo dwellers and corporate tower owners who pocket their tax abatements, the mega-non profits who pay no taxes at all, or the banks who profit from the District's spiralling debt.    

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 27, 2014 11:42 pm
Actually, he's trying to cut some of the fat in Philly rather than increase taxes on anyone at all. The only good idea out there for funding schools. Corporate tower owners (and every small business) already got a 25% Use & Occupancy tax increase on top of Philly's 6.5% business income tax (just move to the suburbs for 0%) to fund the schools. But I assume you'd rather remain wilfully ignorant so you can stick with your rhetoric.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 28, 2014 12:48 am
Great example of a supposed "education advocate" criticizing an idea to fund schools. Because it cuts the waste in the rest of city government. Seems there are more important things than kids after all. Ron, you are not an "education advocate". You are an advocate for the waste, fraud, and corruption, officially, a status quo Philly machine operative.
Submitted by Morrie Peters (not verified) on May 28, 2014 8:30 am
Ron is a warrior for a just society. Comcast is reaping obscene amounts of profit. Beyond the ethical responsibility to provide a a balanced, just education it is in the corporate overlords best interest to have a socially and intellectually enlightened populous. If we can to allow this corrupt City Council and Mayor to be bought and paid for by monied interests, Philadelphia will collapse like the Salvation Army building. (Not coincidently under the purview of Nutter, City Council and Comcast. Have a nice day:-)
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 28, 2014 10:52 am
Lol. Comcast. One of the last big employers people like Ron haven't yet driven out of the city. Ignore the tens of millions they and their well-off (often suburban employees) pay for Philly's multiple highest-in-the-US taxes and bitch about the one tax they get a partial break on. Not that even that couple million a year would make a difference. What would make a difference- $70 million a year you could cut easily from cutting the bloated city budget. But for some reason that notion offends Ron and many other supposed "education advocates". Why? Oh, right. It's about "justice". My point- it's not about funding schools or providing quality education. Actually, it's about conceited ideologues passing themselves off as "education advocates", using the legitimate needs of schools and kids to push their agenda of ever higher taxes. Have a nice day :)
Submitted by Morrie Peters (not verified) on May 28, 2014 11:56 am
Do you have any operational experience in running a District, school or classroom?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 29, 2014 11:40 am
Completely irrelevant to the question here. Not that operational experience in this district necessarily qualifies those responsible for it to manage a snowball stand. Perhaps I have an advanced degree in public policy with a detailed understanding of the city budget. But that too is irrelevant. I can do basic math. I know if we are the most highly taxed city in the US (ignoring Bridgeport), that the problem is NOT a lack of tax revenue, but a failure to spend that money on important priorities like education. And I have the common sense to see that people claiming to be "education advocates" but who oppose efforts to fund schools that don't involve a tax increase- well they are frauds.
Submitted by Morrie Peters (not verified) on May 29, 2014 12:46 pm
You are the very epitome of the problem. Policy wonks and accountants are influencing and making decisions for a system they have no experience operating. Children are not cars to be rolled off a Model T assembly line. If you truly understood math you would see that Charters cost this city at a minimum $500 million dollars. They are a redundant, inefficient use of limited resources. I agree that the money is there. The political will to correct this fiasco is not. In the words of Lauren Hill: "You can get the money, you can get the power, keep your eyes on your final hour." Good day:-)
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 28, 2014 1:43 pm
We have lost Pfizer and Starbucks to the U.K. because of the U.S. corporate tax rate - I guess our tax breaks weren't big enough :)
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 29, 2014 12:50 pm
Correction, it is Walgreens, not Starbucks that is considering relocating to Europe. Sorry, read that one too fast.
Submitted by Nell (not verified) on May 28, 2014 4:25 pm
Wow. Little did we know that Ron was such a powerful guy. He drove out Budd, Tastykake, Bryers, Asher's candies, Progress Lighting and, apparently, countless others. All while being a full-time teacher. Take a bow, Ron. Can you fix my ticket, too?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 29, 2014 11:41 am
That is the power of collective action around dumb ideas.
Submitted by tom-104 on May 27, 2014 5:46 pm
Why does no one question the money going to the banks for debt payment and interest? The district’s annual debt-service obligation is up 32% from five years ago. Half of that debt, $159.9 million, goes to interest. According to 2011 Census data, districts nationwide paid an average of $155 per non-charter pupil on debt service. Philadelphia spends $1,684 per non-charter student. Last year the District borrowed $300 million to cover the deficit that year. The interest for that loan is $22 million annually for 20 years. Before the 2008 banking crisis, the District entered into $3.5 billion in variable rate bank swaps The School District is out $186 million because they bought variable rates, which plummeted in the 2008 banking crisis, instead of fixed rates. (last paragraph) Debt service is 12% of the FY14 budget for the School District. Why is this expense never questioned?
Submitted by Publius1788 (not verified) on May 27, 2014 9:52 pm
Dear tom-104, The debt service obligation of the School District of Philadelphia (SDP) is well known and discussed frequently on this site and others. It is one of the problems the City must address if there is ever going to be a viable, long-term solution to SDP funding. The first step in problem solving is to understand the problem. This must include coming to a consensus on the facts. Your statement --”Why does no one question the money going to the banks for debt payment and interest? “-- is incorrect and demonstrates a common misunderstanding of Philly’s School debt. The district did not borrow from a bank like you or I might get a car loan. The SDP issued (sold) bonds. Actually, to be completely accurate, Pennsylvania through the Pennsylvania State Aid Intercept Program, issued the bonds to lower the borrowing costs. (Let’s be honest, investors would not buy bonds from SDP without the state guarantee. Some small amount of the debt service payments may go to financial institutions (the banks everybody loves to hate) in fees; however, the majority goes to the bond holders. Almost every school system carries debt. The debt is usually associated with capital projects such as building schools. Borrowing to pay operating expenses should never have been allowed. However, it was allowed so citizens concerned with education must accept this fact. Go Frankford High! Sincerely
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 27, 2014 11:57 pm
If the debt is invalid, then the pay raises and pension benefits it helped finance are invalid as well, no?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 28, 2014 11:11 am
I took out a fixed rate mortgage in 2006 instead of a variable rate loan. Rates went down. It was a bad decision in retrospect. I could have saved a lot on interest. I guess I should blame the bank and demand a refund.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 28, 2014 1:03 pm
Taking that fixed rate mortgage in 2006 was your individual choice. The families and teachers had no choice in what the long gone school accountants did before 2008, but they are expected to suffer for it. Also, there is a difference between your individual property and a public school system which is for the common good of society.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 29, 2014 11:19 am
Funny. Families and taxpayers had no choice in what past politicians promised for pension benefits, but we are expected to suffer for those promises. Detroit is the model for dealing with these problems.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 27, 2014 5:43 pm
mr oh ,is full of ca-ca......
Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on May 27, 2014 7:25 pm
This is just nonsense. A nonsensical utterance of an inconsequential Republican hack that has no weight or hope of coming to fruition. All school districts in Pennsylvania are hurting. But they all tax themselves at higher rates to they pay for THEIR children. Philadelphia expects them to pay for its children too. Because as most people in Philly know everything is free and the government will take of you. So expend as little effort as possible. Whine not work! Philadelphia contributes a smaller percentage of its funds to its total budget of any district in the state. Yet they whine and cry and say we need more because we are special and governing ourselves involves hard choices and we might be sad if we actually paid for the the things we use. And the solution is to look for loose change in the budget? Is this a JOKE? What fools the Philadelphia politicians be!!!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 27, 2014 11:53 pm
Yes, we should ignore the obvious because it offends the Democrat machine here and therefore isn't feasible. There IS $70 million that could be cut from the city budget and sent to the schools. There is actually a lot more truth be told. But never will any professional "education advocate" ever say this for some reason. I support more state funding, but that doesn't mean the city should continue to squander its copious resources on lesser priorities than the school system.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 27, 2014 7:02 pm
So...are the lay offs coming?
Submitted by Publius1788 (not verified) on May 27, 2014 9:45 pm
If Councilman Oh can find $74 million and if Council President Clarke would agree to allow Philly’s schools to get all of the additional $120 million the Pennsylvania Legislature gave to the schools by extending the temporary 1% sales tax, then Philly’s schools are better off. Ms. Helen Gym, Mr. Ron Whitestone, Ms. Eileen DiFranco, and our other champions should be demanding these actions get done this week. Go Frankford High! Sincerely,
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 28, 2014 10:27 am
Yay Republicans! Less government is more - What is the purpose of Council anyway? How have they justified their existence/served their constituency in the past 10 years or more? Or rather did they just add to their burden, and cause many to flee? How about we just get rid of Council, and put governing decisions directly into the hands of voters? With 1/4 the earned and unearned income tax (1% with the exception of Norristown which is 2%), a difference in property taxes that is certainly not proportional to the difference in local vs State funding (and even less so now with the recent hike in the City), and 2% less sales tax, somehow the outlying 'burbs of Philly manage to use more of their tax revenue for their schools. How do they do it, especially without a governing body such as our Council?
Submitted by Morrie Peters (not verified) on May 28, 2014 11:07 am
Liens are placed and collected on slumlords who do not pay their property taxes in the suburbs
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 28, 2014 1:56 pm
Yes, Council has done a good job with that (research that on the Notebook). The City is also getting the 'burbs share of the earned income tax for workers who don't live here, but work here. That doesn't apply in reverse, which is you pay the rate for where you work, not for where you live if you work in the 'burbs, and live in the City. So in many ways the City already is draining from the 'burbs. Take a look at the median household incomes, then multiply that figure by the number of households. Compare also, the median house value and multiply by number of households. Four times the earned income tax as other areas? I would say we definitely have a problem that is not related to State funding at all. If you agree with Council, that the State needs to fund the City more, then you are saying that the rest of the State owes Philly more. Pretty convenient for Council to say this.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on May 28, 2014 10:19 pm
Ms. Cheng, Governor Corbett got rid of the charter school reimbursement line item, which is costing the District a lot of money. Perhaps the District wouldn't be paying so much in debt service if it had still been receiving the reimbursements for charter schools. In addition, the Commonwealth has diverted millions in District-allocated funds in order to pay charter schools when charter schools have exceeded their enrollment caps and then requested per-pupil payments. The fact is that the charter schools do not serve the same students as the District does. If charters served the same students, then populations of both regular ed students and special ed students would be in decline. However, the District is opening new Autistic Support classes every year. EGS
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 29, 2014 12:21 pm
EGS, the charter reimbursement line item was a big reason why Philadelphia has so very many charters to begin with, and why charters can so easily make a profit. The District was paid twice, which means that the taxpayers paid twice, for charter transfers; Being able to keep the infrastructure with fewer students meant the payment per child to charters increased proportionately. Why do you think the SRC had very little incentive to screen charter start-ups, in fact the opposite? More charter transfers meant more money for smaller classes. I find it most ironic that it was the charters themselves that complained about this reimbursement, saying that the home district was being paid for students they no longer had to educate. Little did they realize this line item was responsible for their own windfall/padded per student payment. It would have been preferable to phase this item out, rather than simply eliminating it, but the credit/budget crisis happened. Unfortunately it was in place long enough to create a disaster. It is misguided to reinstate it. Mr. Oh's initiative should be followed with a push for a complete review of where City tax money is being spent. There is a lot that is not accounted for that should by rights be going to the schools.
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