And so, it has come to this: Dr. William Hite, Mayor Michael Nutter and the S.R.C. are proposing to balance the city’s books on the backs of its public school teachers.  The canard that teachers should cede 1/8 of their salaries and an additional 1/8 to help defray the cost of their benefits does not hold up. The cause of the budgetary shortfall is poor financial management.

They have marred the financial stability perhaps beyond redress by their failure to enforce property tax laws fairly and uniformly over many years by pandering to their base by not holding owners in arrears to account. Had the delinquencies not become so protracted, the issue of school funding would have been rendered moot. Further, had they occurred in surrounding jurisdictions, their owners would have long since lost their houses to sheriff sale outside a year at most, election year or no.

Strikingly absent from the reportage is the history of this crisis. Nearly 1/4 of all property owners in Philadelphia are delinquent and some of it is now uncollectible because they have not followed up. To make matters worse, former superintendent Arlene Ackerman saddled the district with more than $650M of unsecured debt with the tacit approval of the mayor and city council.  The reportage suggests that this figure has been revised upward since then but without clear explanation.  In the absence of a forensic audit, it’s difficult to precisely pin down. As if that weren’t bad enough, Ackerman was awarded nearly $1 million in severance in August 2011 and more than 35 central office personnel inopportunely received raises the following year, much to the consternation of the city’s hard-working productive people.

The politicians in charge have run the city off the tracks and well nigh ruined it. They have neither been honest nor responsible. Nonetheless, my solution is conceptually as simple as it is fair. First and foremost, city officials need to weed out waste, fraud and abuse. As has been told, a 5-year forensic audit of the district financials is essential. A long-term financial plan to both stabilize and then incentivize the tax base is also needed. This should include closure of all charter schools. They have already proven that they are far too cost prohibitive to operate and their constitutional standing is tenuous at best. The research, in addition, is disturbingly uneven.  Further, as we have already seen, they have become magnets for fraud and abuse. Most importantly, revenue department officials must tenaciously collect back taxes from those who owe them within the bounds of moral and ethical restraint.  They have not done so.  The mendacity of hope through taxing and spending has not availed. Only mature attacks will do so. Mayor Michael Nutter and city council must ensure that the city operates within its means and that the folks are treated fairly.

The primacy of fair play cannot be gainsaid.  Mr. Green and Dr. Hite have erroneously, unapologetically and unforgivably used the issues of teacher salaries and seniority as pretexts for beating up public education and the work which principals and teachers together do best. They must grasp the universalities of honesty and fairness and wise up.  Principals and teachers have put up with a lot of abuse and deserve to be treated fairly.  Sadly, many are not.  The financial state of the school system was not of their own making.  Together, they must forcefully speak up to make these positions known or together, they will have the best seats in the house at their own demise along with public education itself, from which America would never recover.

Wherever conflict rages, however imperfect our schools, students and staff may be, America is indeed exceptional.  We enjoy the most vibrant economy, the best healthcare and the most potential for upward mobility of any country in all the world.  These are our heritage and begin with public education.  As such, we must never fail to aspire to the cultural and moral greatness to which we are capable.  The past is indeed prologue and as ever the bemused cynic, I confess myself disappointed.