City Councilwoman focuses on schools and water quality

Helen Gym won a City Council seat last year largely on the strength of her public education platform. She’s a former public school teacher, a mother of three public school students and a community organizer emphasizing public school advocacy.

But now that Gym holds one of seven at-large seats on the 17-member council, she won’t be a one-issue lawmaker. Gym discussed schools and several other policy issues during her appearance at the monthly meeting of the Fox Chase Homeowners Association and Town Watch on Feb. 10.

Council President Darrell Clarke appointed Gym to chair the new Children and Youth Committee, which will focus on juvenile justice, teen health and pregnancy and other important topics involving young people, she said. The committee will host a hearing on March 21 to examine the city’s water quality and how it affects public health.

The idea for the hearing arose in light of the water quality problems in Flint, Michigan. Council members have no information that Philadelphia’s water is hazardous or lacking in any way, Gym said, but they feel it’s worthwhile to hear directly from Philadelphia Water Department officials, anyway. Councilmembers want to know what the PWD does to ensure water safety and to employ best practices for water treatment.

Gym said she has also taken an interest in council’s effort to strengthen notification requirements of private equity firms that purchase delinquent mortgages from federally insured lenders. In short, those firms have a history of foreclosing on struggling mortgagees with minimal warning, forcing people from their homes and often leaving those homes vacant.

Gym wants mortgagees to be notified before their debts fall into the hands of firms that may be quick to foreclose, rather than helping mortgagees to keep their homes.

Public schools are still Gym’s priority, too. One of her projects is to restore nurses and counselors to every public school. Due to the school district’s budget woes, many schools have been operating with no counselor and a part-time nurse. Unfortunately, students don’t wait until a nurse is around before getting sick or having an accident.

Gym claims that it would cost the school district $13 million to restore a nurse and a counselor in each school. The district has projected an operating budget deficit of $91.6 million this year.

In unrelated meeting business:

• Seth Bluestein, deputy city commissioner, informed meeting-goers that March 28 is the last day to register to vote in this year’s primary elections. The party elections will be held on April 26. Pennsylvania voters will choose party nominees for president, U.S. senator, state senator and state representative, among other offices.

Voters may visit www.philadelphiavotes.com or call the commissioners office at 215–686–3462 for registration forms, absentee voter forms, polling place locations and other voting information.

• Kate Grugan, a teacher at Fox Chase Elementary School, reported that the school is in a year-long planning phase for a “redesign” of the curriculum into a project-based model with an agriculture theme. The school is already partnering with Fox Chase Farm for monthly field trips for students.

Meanwhile, Fox Chase teachers are receiving additional professional development in support of the new instruction model. The school hopes to implement the agriculture-based curriculum next year.

• Community Relations Officers Rich Simon of the 7th district and Mark Mroz of the 2nd district said that several residential burglaries have occurred in recent weeks in the neighborhood, although the crime rate has declined since the conclusion of the holiday season.

Residents are reminded to lock their doors and to report suspicious activity in the neighborhood by calling 911 for a crime in progress or the police district to provide information after the fact. The phone numbers are 215–686–3020 (2nd district) and 215–686–3070 (7th district). ••