Earlier this year, three neighborhood civic groups — Mt. Airy USA, West Mt. Airy Neighbors and East Mt. Airy Neighbors — teamed up to form a schools coalition designed to support neighborhood schools in the midst of the School District of Philadelphia’s ongoing budget crisis.
The group’s first initiative was to make use of a tax credit program run through Harrisburg. The Educational Improvement Tax Credit allows businesses to elect to redirect their tax dollars to public schools. In late spring, the group made a neighborhood-wide push for businesses in the area to complete the necessary steps to qualify for the program.
What happened next
The Mt. Airy Schools Coalition was able to get 15 businesses on board, according to Abby Thaker of Mt. Airy USA. Among others, the businesses included the Trolley Car Diner, Earth Bread + Brewery and Mt. Airy Violins and Bows.
In the end, however, there wasn’t enough state money to OK each of the businesses that signed up. The program gives priority to businesses that have utilized the program in years past and in Mt. Airy’s case, that meant only two businesses were approved — Susquehanna Bank and M&T Bank — both of which had branches qualify in other areas of the state in previous years.
“We were disappointed that many interested businesses were not awarded [the credit], but we see it as a positive sign of the support that exists for local schools in Mt. Airy,” said Thaker.
The total amount received from the program was $4,500, with each of the neighborhoods schools — C.W. Henry, Henry Houston, Lingelbach, Emlen, J.S. Jenks and Anna B. Day — receiving between $700 and $850 to go towards a specific program.
What the money will be used for
At Houston, Lingelbach, C.W. Henry and Emlen, the money will go towards math software. At Anna B. Day, it will contribute to the gifted program and a field trip to Chinatown for the Chinese New Year. And at J.S. Jenks, the money will go to a STEM initiative at the school.
Jenks principal Mary Lynskey said specfically, the money will contribute to the cost of a LEGO robotics program and to inviting experts from nearby Awbury Arborteum to come and speak to students about owls.
“[The grant] will help us keep science alive in the classroom by bringing people in,” said Lynskey, adding that the additional money — $700 — helps the school dedicate money to bigger things.
“It’s been a goodwill year,” continued Lynskey. “Grassroots efforts are taking over” in light of the school district’s budget cuts, she said.
Going forward, the coalition hopes to better pair up the needs at community schools with the resources that are available within the community. The first step is through a neighborhood-wide survey that they hope will give them better insight into what is missing at each school and what individuals and businesses in the area are capable of offering up.
The Mt. Airy Schools Coalition is also teaming up with realtors to familiarize agents with the neighborhood schools — a top priority for families who are considering moving to the area.
“When families are deciding where to put down roots, the quality of schools is at the top of their mind,” said Thaker. “People’s perceptions are clouded by what’s going on at the district level, so we want to make sure the realtors who are having these conversations are informed about the good things that are happening.”
The tour will take place in early January.