Sen. Vincent J. Fumo

District Office

1208 Tasker Street
Phila, PA 19148

Harrisburg Office

545 Main Capitol
Hbg, PA 17120




Mr. President,

One of the favorite sayings of this governor is “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” He and his spin doctors use that line all the time when they give interviews, as they are so fond of doing, to talk about how openly they are running the government.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant. So it’s no wonder that they kept this bill in the dark up to the very last minute. It needs disinfectant so badly that you can already smell it all the way to the Ohio border.

Even after the Republicans brought this out of the closet less than 24 hours ago and railroaded it through the House, they still weren’t being honest about it. As they sit here today prepared to railroad it through the Senate, they still aren’t being open about what this bill does or about the number of dollars it will provide.

They are trying to sell it as help for the Philadelphia School District, when in fact it nothing more than a political patronage grab.

That power grab is made worse by the cynical ploy of using Philadelphia school children for political cover.

There is no meaningful financial assistance for the Philadelphia School District in this legislation. The numbers are phony and the intent of the bill is phony.

According to our understanding, the money they claim they are diverting from the parking authority to the schools, about 45 million dollars by some calculations, is contractually obligated because of parking authority bonds. The real excess revenue, which the parking authority holds for operational purposes, is only about $3 million.

Whether it’s $45 million or $3 million, keep in mind that it doesn’t really address the school district’s $200 million plus deficit. But it’s probably $3 million.

The second possible scenario is this: Let’s say they somehow can figure out legally how to get their hands on $45 million and transfer it to the school district. That money is part of the city budget. Some of it is dedicated to the PICA 5-year plan for city finances. So it has a negative impact on the city’s financial solvency.

This is a hoax that doesn’t help the school district at all.
This comes at a time when the governor was proclaiming that he wanted to be a partner with the city in addressing the quality of education in Philadelphia.

Or did he just want to give that impression until the GOP convention had left town?

Let’s quickly look at how we got to this sorry state of affairs.

For years, the Philadelphia School District has been pleading with Republicans to meet their obligations to the children of the city, as well as children in other poor school districts around the state. For years the Philadelphia schools have cut back programs, tightened their budgets, put up with leaking ceilings and outdated textbooks.

When the city finally said its financial crisis was so bad that it might not be able to keep the schools open a few years ago, the governor and his Republican colleagues in the legislature made a big show of passing a school takeover law.

“We won’t let you lock the children of Philadelphia out of the classroom” they thumped their chests and said. “We’ll come down from Harrisburg and run the schools.”

But now that the schools have reached the desperation point, what answer do the Republicans give us? Are they going to ride in on their white horses and take over classrooms? No. They’re going to take over parking lots.
If the Republicans had come up with a plan that would provide real, meaningful assistance to Philadelphia schools, we might support it, even if they didn’t consult with city leaders or other officials in a bipartisan fashion.

But this bogus takeover plan would not produce enough money to address the city schools’ deficit, let alone do things like reduce class size, increase school security, or improve teacher training, even if it contained all the money they claim it does. But in fact, it contains only a fraction of what they say.

This legislation is a mockery. It makes a mockery of the good faith attempts by the mayor of Philadelphia to cooperate with a governor of the opposite party in addressing the plight of city schools. It makes a mockery of all that this governor has said, not only about his supposedly open and honest style of governance, but also about his desire to be a partner with the city in solving the schools’ problems.

Mayor Street has been trying to work with Gov. Ridge. He has met with him. He has tried to change the tone from that set by a previous school superintendent who had a knack for alienating people in Harrisburg. He collaborated with the governor in designing a new teachers contract.
In short, he has genuinely tried to be a partner with the governor in solving the problems of the state’s largest school district. His reward: He gets sucker punched with a bill cooked up behind closed doors.

There’s something else this mayor has done. I acknowledge that in the past, the school district has sometimes cried wolf over its money problems. But Mayor Street has made a concerted effort to be forthright and honest about the real financial picture Philadelphia Schools.

Not like America’s Mayor, Ed Rendell. The reward for his honesty?
Legislature leaders give him a phony solution that doesn’t begin to address the real magnitude of the city school’s financial problems.
Mayor Street is being treat so shabbily because this has nothing to do with helping schools. It is about creating a patronage operation for Republicans in the city of Philadelphia.

Republicans preach about local control on everything from taxation to education. We hear it from them over and over. They don’t want the big government from Harrisburg dictating to local officials, mandating things to local officials.

But now Harrisburg is going to take over a municipal authority. Since when are local parking lots a function of state government rather than local government?

And is this the best they can come up with in for school equity?

What about all the other school districts, the rural and small-town schools around the commonwealth who need more money to give their kids a good education? What are we going to tell them? That Harrisburg politicians are going to come in and take the quarters out of the parking meters in some little town and give it to them to schools. That’s the answer?

This makes a joke of any notion that the state – under this administration and under Republican leadership in the legislature – wants to do anything about giving all children in the commonwealth get a good education.

Now everyone knows it.

Copyright 2000 Sen. Vincent J. Fumo