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Penn for PILOTs is urging the university to begin making payments in lieu of taxes. Photo: Getty Images.
Penn for PILOTs is urging the university to begin making payments in lieu of taxes. Photo: Getty Images.

UPenn Chair Trustee Scott L. Bok pressed to make payments in place of public school taxes

Bok has been requested to change the university’s position on payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs), and make payments in place of public school taxes.

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Scott L. Bok was announced as the incoming University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) Chair of the Board of Trustees in late 2020. Bok began the position in July 2021.

The UPenn alumni succeeded David L. Cohen, who had been acting Chair since November 2009 and is now the U.S. Ambassador to Canada, was a noted opponent of PILOTs.

Now Bok is being pressed to change the university’s position on payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs), and begin making payments to an Educational Equity Fund.

“Public schools depend on property taxes, and Penn is the largest private property owner in Philadelphia,” said Ann Farnsworth-Alvear, Associate Professor of History. “With an endowment of $20.5 billion, Penn can easily afford to pay 40% of what it would owe in property taxes.”

Penn for PILOTs — a group of UPenn faculty and staff, from both the university or Penn Medicine — are behind the push, acting as primary advocates for the cause.

The group believes UPenn should make payments towards an Educational Equity Fund that is governed by the School District and City of Philadelphia.

Over 200 Penn faculty and staff have delivered letters to Bok, sent a night before a March 3 and 4 Board of Trustees meeting, asking the Chair to alter Penn’s policy on PILOTs.

Penn for PILOTs is also hoping to communicate their message to incoming president Elizabeth Magill.

UPenn announced a $100 million donation to public schools in November 2020, to be paid over 10 years. Penn for PILOTs responded to the donation in their letter to Bok:

“We consider Penn’s announced gift of $100 million… a positive first step toward fulfilling its responsibility, and only a first step… Together with more than 1,000 of our colleagues, we have called on Penn to pay 40% of what it would owe in property taxes every year on a permanent basis,” they wrote  

If Penn agreed to Penn for PILOTs requests, the university would need to pay approximately $40 million each year. This is four times what Penn has already promised in their donation, and does not account for the inflation which will not affect Penn’s donation. 

You can attend an event tonight, March 3, organized by Penn for PILOTs: “What Penn Owes Philadelphia Families.” 

The event is open to all Penn faculty and community members, and will feature a conversation on Penn’s impact on Philadelphia, specifically West Philly, and “its history of dispossessing and displacing Black, Brown, and immigrant families.”

“What is Penn’s civic obligation to the public schools? How can Penn help preserve affordable housing around its campus? Learn how you can support the efforts of the Coalition to Save the University Townhomes, and Penn for PILOTS,” stated Penn for PILOTs.

You may register for the event here. The event will be held by the Graduate School of Education’s HEARD program, and the Penn chapter of the American Association of the University Professors (AAUP).

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