We Lay Waste Our Powers: what Corbett's destruction of Temple University will cost all of us

Though I know that we all stand together or we all fall separately and all that, there is always the moment of relief reading or listening to a budget address when you realize this or that was spared. There were those moments in Governor Corbett's address yesterday. We are not yet New Jersey. Free legal services will survive for now, as will important welfare programs. Prisons may not expand forever.

But the glaring casualty (apart from the cuts to the Department of Community and Economic Development - including the end of the grab bag that is 'walking around money', one double edged blade for the Governor) is education. In addition to sharp reduction in public school budgets likely designed to create a back-door Wisconsin situation by pressuring teachers' unions to the breaking point, there are 50% cuts to Temple and the other public and publicly-affiliated universities. Under the Governor's proposed budget, if Temple does not die, it will survive as something altogether different and worse.

This is not hyperbole. Starting with a 50% cut, even a compromise amount could be massive. As Temple's funding has been progressively reduced in past years, its student composition has likewise shifted. It's a complicated set of reactions, but there are clear trends: tuition is still low, but it's higher. Test scores and GPAs of admitted students are up. Students are more suburban, whiter, more privileged. Temple is a solid choice for kids with choices, not necessarily the one ladder out of a hard neighborhood with bad schools and a family where no one has advanced degrees or degrees at all. But for some kids, Temple is still that ladder and those kids are important. They are from Philadelphia. And Temple might also employ their parents, family members, neighbors with solid union jobs.

I've written before here about how I graduated from Temple before I graduated from Penn Law. Now I work in City Council, for Maria Quinones Sanchez, helping to represent neighborhoods filled with kids I desperately want to see have the chance to attend Temple and have access to the same amazing social and intellectual community I got to join.

There is no way they'll have that chance under the Governor's budget. Temple's president said in a video posted quickly yesterday afternoon that she would have to exercise all possible measures: layoffs, program closures, tuition hikes. Think though any one of those and see what a mess we are in. Start with tuition hikes: unless Temple ends anything close to normal financial aid practices, for every dollar you increase tuition, there will be students who need that much more aid. So you end up having to raise fees more sharply for those who can pay to make up for those who can't. At some point those who can pay stop looking at Temple as a surprisingly good deal with solid academics, and start looking somewhere more flashy and with a campus in a more idyllic setting than North Philadelphia. Enrollment drops. Even more jobs have to be cut, from one of the largest and most significant employers and economic engines in the whole city. "Inessential" programs and disciplines get cut or closed and the very scope of academic inquiry possible at Temple has fundamentally changed and contracted. Whatever that possible future Temple ends up looking like, it will be worse. Less competitive, less accessible, less of an economic and development force.

Corbett quoted Faulkner and Wordsworth in his address yesterday. Wordsworth was invoked at length - "'Getting and spending / We lay waste our powers.' Note the subtlety there. It's not that we use up our powers. We lay them waste. We lose them outright. Getting and spending we lose track of our real purpose" - minutes after he justified not taxing natural gas extraction at Marcellus Shale with these words:

These resources, by the way, belong to the people who own the mineral rights. Those people are getting their fair share by working out their own leases with the companies doing the drilling. That's how it should be. That's the American way. What Pennsylvanians will gain is the jobs, the spinoffs, and if we don't scare off these industries with new taxes, the follow-up that comes along. You see underneath the Marcellus Shale is another bonanza. It's called the Utica Shale. And where Marcellus promises 50 years of energy the Utica promises riches going into the next century. Let's make Pennsylvania the hub of this boom. Just as the oil companies decided to headquarter in one of a dozen states with oil. Let's make Pennsylvania the Texas of the natural gas boom. I'm determined that Pennsylvania not lose this moment. We have the chance to get it right the first time, the chance to grow our way out of hard days.

That vision is not Pennsylvania as Texas. It is Pennsylvania as 19th century England. It's the nightmare of industry that acts only for itself. Who can still fetishize a made-up golden age of unbridled souls, free to bargain with unregulated industry? When has that worked out for the unbridled souls? Playing fields aren't level, information is not symmetrical, sometimes the only job available could kill you and wants you to work overtime with no additional pay, and if you can't organize for better conditions or leave what good is any theoretical free agency you might have? Likewise, how can you stand before the people of your state in March of 2011 and tell them to trust that by letting industry help itself, we will be helping all of us? What poem can he quote us to justify the recent subprime lending crisis and this ongoing recession?

I read Wordsworth as a student at Temple. I read "The World Is Too Much With Us," and "Tintern Abbey." I thought about the industrial era reacted to by those poems, and the post-industrial forces that were shaping the neighborhoods right around and behind Temple's campus. I took classes at in-state tuition rates with brilliant professors like Steve Newman, who has already written incandescently about the Governor's proposed cuts. I went to Rome for the price of that same tuition. I got work study money that helped me live, paid out of special state funds dedicated to creating a supportive bridge to college for local students who otherwise would not have gotten in and who often flourished once there. I mentored those students, I tutored them, I hung out with them, and we brought each other closer to the kind of academic inquiry Temple fosters: we rigorously engaged with texts and ideas, and embedded all that work in the reality of our and other's lives and communities. Because literature is not just there to turn into political rhetoric, nor is history, economics or philosophy. They are not there to excuse taking money from Temple and Philadelphia to give it to the people who happen to have bought some mineral rights, and to wrap that theft in tones of authority. Temple would have taught the Governor to read and use all the sources at play in his speech with a sharper sense of care and responsibility. I hope he comes, immerses himself there even briefly, and tests his claims against what he sees.

Don't Miss the PROGRESSIVE Council Forum March 21 at the Free Library, Central Branch

Well, there are forums and then there are Forum EVENTS. On March 21, we're having a Forum EVENT. And the reason it will be special is this: WE are going to ask the questions, that is the progressive community. We've all heard how the City has to keep trimming the workforce, give tax breaks to everyone except working people, and rein in the greedy public workers and their unions. And betcha there will be plenty of forums in which candidates will be well prompted to adopt that agenda. We have another agenda, though, and it's people and planet oriented. And that's what WE will be asking about on March 21. So, if you think this Forum will truly be an EVENT, and you want to help make it so, here are two things you can do:

First, come to the first ever City Council At-Large Progressive Forum. Details on the flip.

Why the Philadelphia Democratic Party needs a Progressive Caucus

A group of progressive Democrats, many of us committeepersons, came together last summer in response to the Democratic Party’s failure to seat a duly elected Democratic committee person, Tracey Gordon. See the YYP post discussing this at:
http://youngphillypolitics.com/philadelphia_democratic_party_worse_i_rea...

The comments on this post cite the court cases which support the rights of duly elected committeepeople and include a link to the 1966 PA Supreme Ct. case which ruled that the Democratic Party cannot ignore the will of the voters.

In response to this incident, a group of progressive Democrats with affiliations to a wide range of community and civic organizations formed a Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus.

Philly School District loses big in charter enrollment dispute

In what will have a dramatic effect on charter school expansion and a potentially serious impact on District finances, an administrative ruling by the state Dept. of Ed. determined that the School District of Philadelphia does not currently have the right to set enrollment caps on charters.

The state has sent the Walter D. Palmer Leadership & Learning Charter School $1.3 million for money owed to the school when it expanded grades and added almost a third more students than it was originally approved for. The charter school had argued that the law did not allow for unilateral determination of charter enrollment.

The District faces court suits from at least a half dozen other charters who are also challenging their enrollment numbers.

I have mixed feelings personally about this ruling. There seemed to be little question that the District was wrong in this case, and would likely have been better off in my opinion, settling with individual schools. For the most part, most charters seemed to be asking for reasonable flexibility around expansion and to accommodate wait lists.

On the other hand, it's hard to imagine that charter operators who are approved for certain grades can unilaterally decide that they can increase into other grades without some measure of oversight, or that they could potentially open other branches and increase their population by multiples.

And as the District already faces a devastating budget shortfall, it's likely that this newest development will significantly complicate the District's financial and structural future.

Philadelphia's forum on hydrofracking our watershed

MEDIA ADVISORY - MEDIA ADVISORY - MEDIA ADVISORY - MEDIA ADVISORY

Speak out, Philadelphia -- for your water supply

Local environmentalists partner with Councilwoman for hearing on new rules for hydrofracking the Philadelphia watershed

Contact: Brady Russell, Eastern PA Director, 215-545-0250

Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown has partnered with Clean Water Action and other environmental groups to host a forum on natural gas drilling in the water supply of Philadelphia. The Delaware River Basin Commission, which was created to protect the special waters of the Delaware River Watershed, has released a set of draft rules for hydrofracking for natural gas.

If these rules go into effect, natural gas drillers will put the water we all drink at the same risk from dangerous chemicals that have made so many concerned in other parts of the state. Many Philadelphians drink water taken from the Delaware River, with intakes downstream from many future natural gas developments.

Philadelphia groups and elected leaders are banding together to create a forum for spoken comment which will be transcribed and sent to the DRBC before the April 15th deadline for comments.

What: Public Forum on the Draft DRBC Natural Gas Drilling Rules
When: March 8th. Doors at 5:15PM. Forum Begins at 5:30PM. Ends at 7:30PM
Where: City Hall, City Council Chambers (Room 400)
Co-sponsoring organizations: Delaware Riverkeeper Network, PennEnvironment, Protecting Our Waters, Sierra Club Southeastern PA

$500K for a superintendent? Another financial misstep by the School Reform Commission

(This is an updated entry to my Daily News column today and is currently running at the Notebook website)

The announcement by the School Reform Commission that it will extend Superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s contract through June 2014 sends a terrible message about the SRC’s approach to the most serious financial disaster the district has seen in recent memory.

The move effectively preserves one of the most lucrative pay packages for a public employee in the state, flying in the face of a national bipartisan trend toward curbing exorbitant compensation for school chiefs.

The contract provides the superintendent with a current salary of $348,140, more than the mayor ($167K with his 10% voluntary paycut) and governor combined ($175K). According to a 2009-2010 study by the Council of Great City Schools, $275,000 was the average salary of heads of districts with 100,000-200,000 students.

The contract becomes even more problematic when bonuses are factored in. Annual performance bonuses worth up to 20 percent of the superintendent’s salary amounted to $65,000 last year. It also entitles the superintendent to a $100,000 retention bonus this year that may be renewed at the discretion of the SRC. In response to inquiries, Ackerman agreed to defer this bonus until the district is on firmer financial footing.

The bonuses are in addition to annual raises, her health plan and a $65,000-a-year contribution to an annuity. Add to that 34 vacation days, 30 days of paid consulting time (which come out of her vacation or personal days) and perks like a car and premiums toward a $1 million life insurance policy. Together salary and benefits push Ackerman to $500,000, and would be $600,000, but for her temporary deferment of the retention bonus.

I contacted the New York City school district, where recently hired Chancellor Cathleen Black earns $250,000, not a single dollar increase over her predecessor and a salary that hasn’t changed since 2002. There are no retention or performance bonuses for Black, who runs a district eight times larger than Philadelphia’s.

The District's communications office has pointed out that Black has some lucrative side deals with corporate boards that dramatically boost her pay. I'm curious to get the same information on our superintendent. After all, she too has a contract that leaves plenty of room to earn money on the side.

To be fair, the high-rolling salaries in Philadelphia began when the SRC was first formed, headed by James Nevels, an investment executive. Nevels often said private industry would solve the problems of public education, and Nevels, who dined regularly at the Four Seasons on the district dime, had the district paying salaries to match. Ex-superintendent Paul Vallas was the first to negotiate previously unheard-of retention and performance bonuses.

But should such excessive compensation continue?

Calling all organizers, activists, advocates, and social change enthusiasts!

PennEnvironment and PennPIRG, in conjunction with the Public Interest Network, are sponsoring an Activist Workshop in Villanova – click the link below to learn more about the training, the organizations, and to RSVP.

Thursday, March 17 from 6-9PM
https://secure3.convio.net/engage/site/Donation2?idb=947495130&df_id=322...

Run by trainers affiliated with The Public Interest Network, the Activist Workshop will cover the best techniques for organizing actions in your community or on your campus, and the best ways to persuade your local media to cover an issue you care about.

Together with other progressives from the community, both professional and volunteer you'll have the opportunity to learn, share ideas, and make new connections.

Does City Hall endorse racial profiling by advocating for a Market Street casino - AGAIN?

No casino sign

In posts too many to name, I’ve shared concerns many of us in the Asian community have about the gambling industry’s penchant for racial profiling. Sometimes, though, it’s refreshing when the industry just speaks for itself:

Philadelphia's large Asian and Slavic populations help make it the right place for a second casino, an attorney for a company that had pondered bidding to run a casino here told the House Gaming Oversight Committee Thursday.

“It is known that we have the two ethnicities that frequent the gambling,” said James J. DiVergilis, who represents Global Gaming, a company that operates no casinos, but considered seeking one of the two Philadelphia licenses awarded in 2006 and now wants to open one in the Meadowlands. “The two ethnicities that go to these are the Slavic community and the Asians,” he said. And “outside Brooklyn, North East Philadelphia is the highest Slavic community in the country.” . . . . .

. . . But freshman legislator and committee member John Lawrence, R-Delaware, was clearly flabbergasted by what he heard.

“Sir, with all due respect, your comments with regards to particular ethnic groups being more or less likely to participate in gambling was somewhat surprising and shocking to me. And disturbing, frankly,” Lawrence said. “I wonder where you come across this information, and how you justify it, frankly.”

DiVergilis told Lawrence that this was not his personal opinion, but what he has read in the gaming trade publications [sic]. “It's all in the literature,” he said.

I have to give it up to you Mr. DiVergilis, gambling industry rep, for your brutal honesty in laying out the cold reality of the predatory gambling industry. You’re hardly wrong to be baffled by anyone’s naivete about your industry’s success in free-range racial profiling. In an investor phone call, Steve Wynn cited the proximity of “a Vietnamese neighborhood” as one of the reasons he contemplated (for a nanosecond) taking over the failed Foxwoods project. Sugarhouse is advertising for an Asian Marketing Executive whose primary job is to “attract an Asian player base to the property.” Earlier this month, Sugarhouse filed a request with the Gaming Commission to create an “Asian themed room” with a noodle bar.

So if there’s little pretense about the fact that the gambling industry has its sights set on the Asian community, explain to me why the City not only continues to endorse that industry but enable it by advocating a casino return to Market Street:

Could the idea of a Market Street casino be back on the table?

Mayor Nutter and his staff are still very much opposed to a casino on Columbus Boulevard at Reed Street in South Philly and are keen on a gaming hall on Market Street East in Center City near the expanded Pennsylvania Convention Center. Alan Greenberger, Nutter's deputy mayor for planning and economic development, told the state House Gaming Oversight Committee this morning that the administration would like the see a second casino in Philadelphia used to "leverage" a larger project such as a hotel near the Convention Center.

Water pouring from the Fairmount SEPTA station is even worse

Three years ago this month I wrote about water seen streaming in from the ceiling of the Fairmount SEPTA station, on the Southbound platform. Since then, it's gotten a lot worse. I was fairly shocked to see how bad it was this morning. This time, I made a video. You get a good gush of water in the video, toward the end.

If you look at the photo in the post I linked above, it's not nearly so bad. Just a serious leak. This video shows that whatever is failing to seal water out has gotten much, much worse.

Standing up for teachers, standing up for our schools

STAND FOR TEACHERS
“We will NOT be intimidated. We WILL be HEARD!”
Friday, Feb. 25th, 4 p.m.
440 N. Broad Street (School District HQ)

Info below

Why join this rally?

  1. Sometime next week, an automatic extension clause in the contract of schools chief Arlene Ackerman will kick in, giving the controversial leader another three years in Philadelphia till June 2014, as one of the highest paid superintendents in the country.
  2. A controversial and unproven plan for "turnaround" that's run roughshod over communities and resulted in a series of student walkouts and community protests.
  3. An atmosphere of intimidation and inexplicable aggression by the District against its own constituents, from calling upon the Inspector General to investigate School Council parents at West Philadelphia High School; to the expulsion and typecasting as a gang member a student victim of racial violence who boycotted South Philadelphia High School; to the latest outrage: the forced removal of Audenried teacher Hope Moffett, who spoke out against the District's plan to turn her high school over to the unproven Universal Companies.

Fortunately, Teachers Action Group is stepping up to the plate with a rally this Friday to address a whole lotta these issues. So if you care about your tax dollars, about our schools, and this city's future, join folks tomorrow on the District's doorsteps and say so.

Teacher Action Group calls on:
Teachers, Students, Parents and All Supporters of Public Education

Tell Ackerman and the SRC:
"We will NOT be intimidated!"

Rally for Public Education
Friday, February 25th, 4:00pm
440 N. Broad St.

We DEMAND that the School District of Philadelphia:

  1. Give Students, Parents, Teachers and Community Members a legitimate role in directing School Reform in Philadelphia: Students, Parents, Educators and Communities have first-hand experiences and ideas about what needs to change in our schools. The District consistently offers us only symbolic advisory roles that have no real impact on final decision-making. We DEMAND to be a part of the decisions that will affect our lives and our schools.
  2. Stop Intimidating Teachers and Students:: We have a Democratic Right to express our opinions and ask questions of our District. These are OUR schools. We DEMAND the District stop threatening and disciplining our teachers and students who speak out.
  3. Have a Transparent Process of School Change: The District is targeting our schools by calling them “failures” without showing us adequate data to back up their decisions. The District is continuing to take over schools without proof that the Renaissance Schools process is even working. We DEMAND answers and transparency.

Join us on Friday, February 25th at 4:00pm
440 N. Broad St.

We WILL NOT be intimidated!
We WILL be HEARD!

For more information, contact rally4phillypublicschools@gmail.com
www.tagphilly.org

Wisconsin (and Ohio?) solidarity rally Thursday, anti budget cut rally Saturday

There are two events in downtown Philly this week against austerity and against pro-corporate policies. The first is a rally, endorsed by several unions, at City Hall on Thursday at 11 AM in solidarity with workers in Wisconsin (although the attacks on collective bargaining and the power of unions, those last bastions of working class power, are now spreading to Ohio: http://www.democracynow.org/2011/2/22/labor_protests_to_defend_collectiv... ). The second rally is at the Comcast building, and the message is this: collect corporate taxes, don't cut programs that the poor and middle class need!

More info below the fold.

Calling All Council Candidates

First, let me pay my respects. You're looking to take on a challenging job. The problems of the City are tough and especially so if you have progressive values as we do. The City is under fiscal stress, and that means City Council can't do everything we'd like it to do if we could get just a little help from Harrisburg and Washington. But Neighborhood Networks doesn't think we, or the politicians we elect, should throw in the towel on implementing progressive ideals. Maybe Council can't do everything, but it can do lots of things that really do matter. We've even written about how important the job of a Councilperson is. So if you agree with all of that, and if you're interested in NN's endorsement, you should definitely download our questionnaire and return it. We will only endorse candidates who do.

Lenora Berson Promoted, Improved Philadelphia

Philadelphia has had many political and community activists over the years. We have had only one Lenora Berson.

Lenora died earlier this month at the age of 83. She was an impassioned advocate who could teach a class, do social work, organize testimony and demonstrations,write speeches, lobby elected officials, initiate candidacies for public office, mastermind election campaigns, write articles and books, take photographs worthy of being shown in art galleries, promote Philadelphia's hidden gems, and organize events to promote the city that no else had thought of.

Hotels that Don't Love You Back

About two months ago leaders of the hotel industry were heard moaning loudly about the travails of their industry. The reason? Owners might have to pay a bit more in taxes under the Sanchez-Green proposal to reform the business privilege tax. Oh, this would be terrible they said. They were already paying higher taxes because the hotel tax had recently gone up to pay for Convention Center expansion. Rates had gone up due to the tax and would have to go up further. Some hotels were in desperate shape and might go under, etc., etc., etc. Oh, and by the way, doom and gloom.

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