PA Working Families Forum: Council candidates respond to education platform
Pennsylvania Working Families, an independent political organization, hosted a City Council candidate forum that covered issues from fully funded education to housing, jobs and stop and frisk.
Members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT), Action United, 32BJ_SEIU and the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS) were among the audience gathered at the Arch Street United Methodist Church on March 7.
Participating panelists included City Council ‘at-large’ candidates Helen Gym, Tom Wyatt, Sherrie Cohen and Isaiah Thomas. The only current members of City Council present were Councilman Wilson Goode Jr. and Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown.
This is the first part of a series of articles with the candidates’ responses to four different platforms.
Starting with Education, the organization asked the candidates’ response on how to return Philadelphia schools to local control; provide universal Pre-K; implement a community model that puts public schools at the center of neighborhoods, and reform the tax system to provide revenue for schools.
Candidate Isaiah Thomas: To be honest with you I was the first candidate to run for City Council that called for local control. I ran in 2011 when everybody cared about DROP, housing and economic development and those things are important. But I ran on an education platform in 2011 when education didn’t poll over 50 percent like is polling right now. It wasn’t the popular thing to do but I did it because I cared about schools and I cared about our young people. We have to make sure to decipher people who truly have the best interest for our children. I am a part of the School District of Philadelphia, born and raised in this city, I’ve been here my whole life. Currently I am on the board of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, Inc. (PIAA) District 12, I am also the president of the Public League Coaches Association. Education is something I am very passionate about and it is the reason I ran for office of City Council in 2011. I just want you to contemplate this, I called for local control in 2011. Imagine if I had won in 2011 and we would had local control then … what would be the difference in our schools over the past three to four years if we had jumped in front of this issue when we knew the government would not find money to replace federal income when we lost it? My challenge to you is don’t make the mistake that we made in 2011, we have to put the right people in office, because if we care about our kids and our young people it is our obligation to get it right.
Candidate Sherrie Cohen: I was also very happy as a candidate, in 2011, to be pushing for local control in the School District with Isaiah. Education is such an important issue in our city and I am proud to be a graduate of local public schools. Back in the day, when I was going to school I remember that our local schools had classes at night for adults, the schools were places to go for classes for adults. And that is what all that community schools vision is today, that we need schools that are hubs of our community. I am totally for local control, universal pre-k, regulation and control over our charter schools, and providing the tax revenue. Until we have an elected school board in Philly, people you elect to City Council have got to be champions for public education because their your representatives in education. City Council should be testifying before the SRC. Right now City Council people should be spokespeople on all issues regarding education.
Candidate Helen Gym: I grew up like many of you, the daughter of immigrants. For me public spaces were the essential places in which I found a place for community and opportunity. And clearly our public schools are where the fight for today stands, is why I am running for City Council, is what I believe in. I started out as a teacher in public schools, a mother of three children, lots of people are gonna come and talk to you about education. But is not just what they are going to say that they would do for you, I ask you to consider what people have done. On this issue I have a significant track record working with people, no just to stand up on these issues, but the problem with our city and the problem with politics in this city, we need to understand that when people go into these backrooms, whatever they may look like, who is going to turn to a puddle of blush when they are facing off against the issues that you care about. We went up against the SRC, who came in and made promises they couldn’t keep. We stood up and face them down to talk about our children. We have 39 percent of our children in poverty, who is going to stand up? who has stood up? all of us have done that. I’ll be your fighter in City Council to make sure our schools our people are the ones that are represented.
Candidate Tom Wyatt: There are two people that more than anything else animate the reason I am standing here today and I am working tirelessly to represent you: My son and my daughter. They will be going to my neighborhood school Andrew Jackson Elementary. We work tirelessly with many people in this room, with many parents, business people and members of different congregations in bringing books to the library, and bringing a more productive and safer school yard at Andrew Jackson. I wanted to talk about an issue that is also problem solving, like my friend Isaia said, is one thing to be passionate about an issue and another to have a solution. Everyday 200.000 Philadelphians get up in the morning and leave the city for employment elsewhere, is more than a third of our work force. We need to get businesses back into the city, and we need them paying their fair share so we can create more revenue for our schools. Community schools, yes, universal pre-k yes, local control, yes. Stronger oversight for charter schools yes. putting charter schools that are not effective out of business, yes.
Councilman ‘at-large’ Wilson Goode Jr.: My record in public education is clear. When we started the School Reform Commission back in the 2000’s we moved the share of property taxes from 55 percent to 58 percent. As we moved towards one of our first crisis at the Philadelphia School District in 2007, it was my bill, the ‘public education reinvestment’ bill that moved that share from 58 percent to 60 percent. Since that time this City Council over the last five years has increased funding for public schools in over $360 million dollars. In terms of what my plans are for the long term, I want to raise property taxes, but not for homeowners. I want to raise property taxes for commercial property owners, because as we did reassessment we gave the commercial property owners a break and shifted the burden to homeowners. We need to take care of our school kids, we need to fund them but we need to do that taxing commercial property at a higher rate.
Councilwoman ‘at large’ Blondell Reynolds-Brown: I come to you as vice chair of City Council Committee of Education and as a former teacher, an educator forever. As Councilman Goode has indicated his record and my record in education is clear. We go back as far as first debate about uniforms being in schools, that was Blondell Reynolds Brown resolution that we should move ahead to have uniforms in schools. It was Blondell Reynolds Brown...I took sodas out of schools, it was my idea again to take sodas out of schools because of the alarming rise of obesity. I am of the view that we need to find new, innovative non-traditional recurrent revenues for schools, some ideas worked and some ideas did not. Two ideas that did not work. I put forward the idea that legislation to save we should do advertisement in school buses because there are already school districts in the Commonwealth that advertise in the school buses and those dollars go to the local school district. In Philadelphia we learned that 75 and plus percent of the school buses are leased, so that idea had to go to the shelf. I also put the idea that we should extend bar hours so that we can collect additional revenue for the schools. After meeting with the police commissioner and learning about our spiked in crime we decided to put that idea on the shelf because it was not a good idea. Last June It was Blondell Reynolds Blonde who lead the friendly debate, quietly, diplomatically behind closed doors on filling that $50 million budget gap for the school district, so my record is clear. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. I’ve been there for schools and I am for universal pre-k.