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Photo: Philadelphia City Council
Councilmember Helen Gym has led the charge to call out the Philadelphia Parking Authority for trying to take money back from Philly schools. Photo: Philadelphia City Council

PPA battles Philly school district over $11.3 million

The city parking authority said it overpaid the school district in 2020 and wants a refund.

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"The Lincoln Lawyer"

May 20th, 2022

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Philadelphia school officials are seeking more information and weighing their options after the Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA) claimed that it overpaid the district by $11.3 million in 2020 and wants a refund.

The district’s chief financial officer, Uri Monson, said that while the amount may seem small compared to the district’s $3 billion annual budget, the PPA’s move could have major consequences for the district’s future planning if it’s allowed to stand. 

Monson said that money from the PPA, which is given each year as part of a longstanding revenue-sharing agreement, is “recurring money,” and adds up over time. If the annual amount can’t be predicted with some certainty, “that significantly affects how we make investments in schools,” Monson said. 

The Parking Authority, which collects over $240 million each year on average and is charged with sending profits to the city and school district, paid zero dollars to the district in 2021. 

The $11.3 million is 77% of the $14.7 million the PPA paid the district last year.

The PPA told Monson it does not have “any supporting documentation to provide” to back up its overpayment claim, according to an email obtained by Chalkbeat Philadelphia through the office of City Councilmember Helen Gym. 

Emails between Monson and the PPA’s chief financial officer seem to indicate that the overpayments involved miscalculations relating to debt incurred as a result of its obligations to retirees. 

The PPA also did not explain why those funds were tied to payments to the school district and not another part of its budget.

Gym organized a press conference on Monday, Dec. 20, outside of the PPA office, where people go to pay and contest parking tickets. She was joined by leaders from the district’s two major unions, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and the Commonwealth Association of School Administrators. 

Outside the PPA payment center in Center City on Monday, Gym and other school funding advocates held up signs likening the PPA to the Grinch — Dr. Seuss’ snub-nosed gremlin who steals from children on Christmas.

“Two years ago, they made a mistake, and now they want their money back from Philadelphia school kids,” Gym said.

In 2007, Gym, then an education and parent advocate, led a campaign to force the PPA to fulfill its obligations to the schools, winning the first payment to public schools since the authority was taken over by the state in 2004. 

“This is the latest in a string of outrageous financial failures by an entity that simply refuses to act as a public trust. There is no way in the world that a single dollar of public money goes to the PPA ahead of schoolchildren in our city,” Gym said. 

In the last five years, the PPA has been audited by two outside government agencies, which revealed a trail of misconduct, financial missteps, and other long-ingrained problems, including overpaid executives and an excess of patronage hires.

Its revenue-sharing formula, which is codified in state law, has also come under scrutiny. 

A 2017 audit from the Pennsylvania auditor general called the current funding formula an “immense detriment” to the school district and its students, as it only receives the leftover dollars while the city receives a fixed amount. 

"The PPA appears hell-bent on their path of reckless injustice, on their path of refusing to pay their fair share, and in their refusal to recognize the role they play in the enormous inequities that unfold every day in every classroom across the city,” said Hillary Linardopoulos, Legislative Representative, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. 

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