Philly pols’ empty rhetoric leaves city’s kids behind

If they ever make hypocrisy an Olympic sport, I think Philadelphia City Council has a real shot at the gold.

Its budget hearing time in Council chambers. So last week William Hite, the new city School Superintendent, showed up with other school leaders for their annual verbal pistol-whipping.

This year the projected schools shortfall runs to a cool $304 million. The school system has asked the city to kick in an extra $60 million to help close it.

This little public chat had a special edge this year. All spring, Council members have been styling and profiling on Twitter, wailing about the district’s decision to close 23 schools.   “What will become of my old alma mater?” they lament.

And they demand to know who allowed this sorry state of affairs to develop. Apparently, Council offices, while lavishly endowed with staff and slush funds, do not come equipped with mirrors.

If indictments were ever issued for the crime of shortchanging the city’s schoolchildren, much of Council would be posing for mug shots.

Understand, the city schools have no power to tax. They depend on the kindness of the state and city governments. Now, the big skinflint, over time and definitely under Gov. Corbett, has been Harrisburg. The state’s chronic failure to live up to its constiutional mandate to pay adequately and equitably for public education the biggest piece of the problem.

Also understand: I’d never suggest the district has always been a deft steward of its resources. But it has been aggressive, some would say fierce, in cutting its staff lately, far more than Council ever has.

I’ve lived here 24 years. In that time, the money available to teach the city’s children has usually fallen up to five thousand dollars, per child per year short of adequacy. Things perked up for a while under Ed Rendell, but Tom Corbett simply does … not … care.

That leaves it to Council and Mayor Nutter to summon the wisdom and courage to find money for their most important duty – educating the next generation.

Council’s defenders will point to the times it’s done something to help – the liquor-by-the-drink tax, recent property tax increases.

But never has Council done enough.  Excuses and complaints have been far more numerous than bright new ideas.

Now would be a good time to do better, Council members. Scour the cushions. Take a scalpel to your own budget. Rethink even solid policies like the property tax abatement, which does much good but hammers the schools in the process.

Let your mirrors show you the face of a problem-solver, not a hypocritical buck passer.

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