With his election as the next mayor of Philadelphia, Jim Kenney has become more supportive than PILOTs than ever before. In a recent article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Kenney "pledged an additional $105 million annually in schools funding." Kenney plans to use a PILOTs program to raise this additional revenue without raising the property taxes of Philadelphia's homeowners. Another article in the Daily Pennsylvanian highlighted newly-elected councilwoman Helen Gym's support. In her online platform, Gym has said that she strives to "send out a message to the nation that Pennsylvania being the worst state in funding disparity is something that no one should stand for and that we’re going to invest in bigger solutions." SLAP is proud to have pushed PILOTs as an issue of racial and economic justice for more than a year now, and we are excited for the future of Philadelphia's public schools.
Today SLAP stood in solidarity with Philadelphia's public schools and once again demanded a meeting with President Gutmann. If you missed it, here's what we had to say to our University President:
President Gutmann, since becoming President of the University of Pennsylvania, you have overseen an unprecedented increase in the University’s wealth, including the largest, most successful fundraising campaign in Penn’s history. At the same time, we have seen the School District of Philadelphia collapse into debt. There were 24 school closures in the 2013-2014 school year alone. In that year, the School District of Philadelphia was forced to lay off nearly 4,000 teachers and other support staff. Philadelphia now spends less per pupil than almost any other major education system in the country. We then asked you, President Gutmann, as students of this University and as residents of Philadelphia, to act. We asked Penn to contribute a small fraction of the millions of dollars that it saves in property tax exemptions each year. Philadelphia has the nation’s highest percent of tax-exempt nonprofit property, and by holding such an immense amount of land in the city and paying such a small amount in property taxes, Penn is upholding an economic system that does not allow Philadelphia’s students to thrive.
When we asked Penn to take steps to fix that, President Gutmann, you told us all the reasons why you couldn’t, why you shouldn’t have to, why you wouldn’t. You told us that Penn already pays enough to the city through the wage tax, ignoring the fact that that money, which is actually paid by Penn employees, doesn’t go to public schools. You told us that Penn already contributes enough through the Penn Alexander School and the Netter Center. The Penn Alexander School’s success only shows us that pouring resources into one successful school, whose demographics are no longer like those of other West Philadelphia neighborhoods, won’t help most of Philadelphia’s most vulnerable students. The Netter Center only shows us that even though Penn students have a lot to offer West Philadelphia’s schools, we can never replace nurses and librarians and guidance counselors and full time teachers. Last year, two young students died in schools where there were no full-time nurses available to them. We are an exceptionally wealthy center for education in a city where education has been stripped to the bone. We need to do more than offer help, President Gutmann. We need to take action.
It has been almost a year since we first made this request. Since then, despite a resolution from city council endorsing PILOTs and a promise from Jim Kenney to pursue them, your answer has still been no. This is about more than just a monetary contribution. This is about demanding that Penn invest in the structural stability of an education system that is needed so badly by Philadelphia’s poor students, working class students, and students of color. This is not charity; it is the beginning of collective reinvestment in students who have been abandoned by so many. It is time for Penn to live up to its reputation as the Civic Ivy, President Gutmann. It is time for PILOTs.
With 55.83% of the vote, Jim Kenney was elected this May as the Democratic candidate for Mayor of Philadelphia. Although the general election isn't until November 3rd, Kenney's victory marks a major turning point in the campaign for Payments In Lieu Of Taxes. In his platform, Kenney has explicitly expressed his support for PILOTs, saying that he “is committed to at least collecting as much in PILOTs ... as Boston does currently.”
This week, Philadelphia's City Council passed a resolution introduced by council member Wilson Goode calling on Philadelphia's Mega Non-Profits to pay their fair share.
SLAP @ Penn went public with the PILOTs campaign earlier this month, demanding that the University of Pennsylvania pay $6.6 million to the City of Philadelphia through the voluntary Payments In Lieu of Taxes (PILOTs) program.
Since then, the media has highlighted the work of SLAP and Jobs with Justice in our call to hold the University of Pennsylvania accountable to the city and to its own commitment to education.
Last week, SLAP was flattered as the PILOTs Campaign was the spotlight of this opinion piece written by the Editorial in AL DÍA News entitled "We are being schooled by the young."
It reads: "While we’re generating excuses for stakeholders seeking to side step the common good the young are all up in our faces, telling it as it really is. Opportunity begins by investing in education in every neighborhood, not just University City and other Penntrifying sections of the city."
The PILOTs Campaign was also featured in the Philadelphia Inquirer, where the University's history of its refusal to pay PILOTs was highlighted:
"Bermudez is a member of the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP), which last week called on Penn to begin donating about $6 million to the city in payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs), with the money targeted for schools and other essential services. Penn said no, noting that it already donated to the city in many ways."
And we were also interviewed for WHYY's Newsworks radio show during primetime:
"Even though it's a nonprofit institution, we have a $6.6 billion annual budget, we have a $9.3 billion endowment and at [Student Labor Action Project] we're only asking for 0.1 percent of that to go to the city and to schools and essential services," said senior Chloe Sigal, who, as a member of the Student Labor Action Project, participated in a "die in" during a Tuesday holiday party to raise awareness for the issue.
We are grateful and humbled for the astounding support and encouragement we have received from all corners of the city, from our neighbors in community meetings to words of encouragement from Penn faculty and staff. We reiterate the incredible inspiration and motivation that guide our work provided by our mentors and peers in our generation and those above us.
We want everyone to know that during finals and the upcoming holidays we will continue to fight with the rest of the Philadelphia community in our demand to see the city's school system fairly funded for all. Join SLAP as we contribute our grain of sand to the movement for racial and economic justice!
Yesterday SOUL and SLAP hosted a die-in together at Amy Gutmann's annual holiday party.
We let her know that business as usual cannot continue when Black lives are being lost, both in the streets, and here in our school system, where children don't have adequate nurses and two students have died in the last year. We mourned for the lives of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and Laporshia Massey, a sixth grader who passed away at school when her asthma attack went undiagnosed. There was no nurse in the school at the time.
Although Amy Gutmann participated in the die-in and told us that Black lives matter, she was unwilling to speak about PILOTs or take concrete action towards addressing Penn's role in de-funding schools and displacing the Black community in West Philadelphia. She told us "we are doing everything we can" but this simply isn't true. $6.6 million of PILOTs would be just .1% of Penn's annual budget.
Amy Gutmann still has not responded to our letter. We await her response, and are ready to meet with her and discuss Penn moving forward with the PILOTs program.
The event was covered by Philly.com and the Daily Pennsylvanian!
Check out the video below of our sit-in after the die-in.
Yesterday, SLAP delivered a letter and a giant blank check to President Gutman's office in College Hall. In the letter, we emphasized that Penn's current lobbying against PILOTs actively contributes to the disinvestment of Black and Brown communities and the defunding of Philly schools. We also delineated our demand: $6.6 million in PILOTs per year.
SLAP requested to meet with President Gutman by end of the 2nd week of the Spring semester. This is more than enough time for the University to prepare a response, considering that community members have been publicly demanding PILOTs for 2 years.
While SLAP has not yet received a response, administrators did choose to comment for the Inquirer: “We believe that...what we do in terms of all [our] contributions … is far more than the city would achieve through PILOT payments,” said Jeffrey Cooper, vice president for government and community affairs, pointing, in part, to Penn's recent decision to open up the University museum to school tours.
These extras can never replace appropriate funding for schools and other city essential services.
Check out Daily Pennsylvanian and Philadelphia Inquirer coverage of the kick-off!
On Friday, SLAP hosted a Coalition Mixer, bringing together students from different communities who we've been strategizing with for the past weeks. It was an evening with plenty of time to educate ourselves, strategize, and build power across communities and among students who care about a variety of causes.
Special thanks to Action United for coming to give us a perspective on public school funding organizing work that's taking place across the city, from public and charter school students, to teachers, parents, and college students. We are proud to be part of this larger struggle. It is only through a strategic alliance of students and community that we can win PILOTs at Penn!