Op-Ed: School district needs money it’s owed

City Councilman Allan Domb discusses supporting dissolving the SRC, and the financial problems that remain ahead.

By City Councilman Allan Domb

Five weeks ago, Mayor Jim Kenney stood in City Council chambers and publicly called upon the members of the School Reform Commission to dissolve, ultimately setting the city on a path to regain local control of the School District of Philadelphia.

I support the mayor with this decision, and we should heed his call for more accountability, collaboration, financial resources and strong leadership for our schools. These objectives will not come without challenge, but if the city assumes local control of our schools, then obtaining these goals will be our responsibility.

We share this responsibility as parents or guardians, as neighbors, as taxpayers, as Philadelphians.

The school district faces significant financial challenges in the years ahead, with more than a $100 million deficit starting next year and rising to a billion-dollar deficit by 2022.

If the plan to dissolve the SRC advances, the duty to fund our schools will now fall more heavily on the city and our taxpayers, and most likely require a multipronged strategy.

The mayor has not revealed his funding proposals, but he did mention delinquent taxes and said they are not the answer. He’s right. They alone are not the answer, but they should be part of the solution.

That is why I recently introduced legislation in Council that could help Philadelphia collect hundreds of millions of dollars in delinquent real estate taxes. My proposal mirrors a similar collection strategy that has been successful in other municipalities, most notably in New York.

My plan could potentially yield tens of millions of dollars through the securitization of tax liens and many more millions through an ongoing collection process.

Let me be very clear. The proposal I introduced is intended to go after individuals who choose not to pay, not those who cannot afford to pay.

The city has already established homeowner-occupied payment programs, and those would be honored and continued under my proposal. In fact, my proposal strives to bring more individuals into these programs while at the same time increasing compliance rates.

While the city has long struggled with taxpayer compliance, it has made positive strides in recent years, and for that I commend the Department of Revenue. Its latest efforts to increase receivables are vital to providing daily programs, operations and services in Philadelphia. But we can do better, and we owe it to ourselves, the taxpayers and our students.

As the city prepares to take on further financial responsibilities, and with 55 percent of real estate taxes dedicated to the school district, now is the time to hold accountable those who choose to not pay their taxes.

The mayor outlined his objectives to create more accountability, collaboration, financial resources and strong leadership if the city regains control of our schools and all the responsibilities that come along with that decision. Well, my proposal checks all those boxes.

What are we waiting for? ••

Allan Domb, an at-large councilman, can be reached at Allan.Domb@phila.gov or on Twitter @TeamDomb