On June 5, the Our City Our Schools coalition shut down City Council hearings on ending ten year tax abatements to increase funding for and overhaul rampant toxic conditions in Philadelphia's public schools. On June 6, City Council members pulled the bill. Below is WE member and leader Kathleen Melville's testimony that she would have given in City Council chambers.
Hello. My name is Kathleen Melville. I am a teacher in Philly public schools, a member of the Caucus of Working Educators, and the Ward Chair in the first ward. I am testifying today in support of ending the ten-year tax abatement.
This year, on rainy days, the ceiling of my classroom leaked. In two different places. Also this year, the handle of our classroom door fell off. It went unrepaired for months, and when my students asked what we would do in the case of active shooter, I did not know what to tell them. For over three years, the toilet in our girls’ bathroom was broken, wrapped in a trash bag. This year, someone on our staff finally broke down and hired a private plumber to repair it.
In the School District of Philadelphia, broken things do not get fixed. You can put in a work order, but except in the most dire situations, you’re better off inventing your own solution than waiting on the District to respond.
On my drive to school each morning, I pass the old West Philadelphia High School. The historic school is gradually transforming into luxury condos - fresh paint, young trees, new sidewalks. The place buzzes with investment, with the anticipation of value, even on rainy days.
In my neighborhood in South Philly, I sometimes pass by the old Bok High School. Another historic high school, bereft of students. My friends rave about the views from the new rooftop bar, but I am scared of the ghosts.
In both cases, private investors initiated major upgrades that the School District could never afford. This is happening all over the city. And our children see it. They see that when white people want fancy condos, we find the money. When young professionals want a rooftop bar, we find the money. When private universities want to expand, we find the money. But when it comes to our children, especially our black and brown children, with leaks in their classrooms and broken toilets and unsafe doors, we can never find the money.
Our children see what we care about by the money we spend. And they are not the only ones. I live in a gentrifying neighborhood in South Philly, and my neighbors see it too. Some of them have lived in their homes for years. They support our kids and our schools, but they simply cannot afford to pay another five hundred dollars a year in property taxes. Others are newer to the neighborhood. They have new homes and nice jobs and young children. And you know what they want even more than ten-year tax abatements? Fully funded schools!
Over the next six months, I will be canvassing in my neighborhood, convening meetings of the Ward 1 committee, and organizing with the Caucus of Working Educators. I will be working with thousands of Philly citizens -- dedicated parents, passionate educators, and concerned neighbors. And we will remember how Council decided to spend our money. Did Council give our moneyas a gift to developers? Or did it invest our money in the schools our children deserve?