Mayor Nutter

Set off without a Paddle: Unpacking the School District’s Disaster Capitalism

Photo by Louie U-A

Last night, a few more details (and scare tactics) from the School District’s radical plan for Philadelphia schools were released. If you didn’t believe that we were in the throes of disaster capitalism, you should now. Watch how the game is played:

The Philadelphia School District's financial situation is so dire that without a $94 million cash infusion from a proposed city property-reassessment plan, schools might not be able to open in the fall, leaders said Tuesday night.

At a district budget hearing, chief recovery officer Thomas Knudsen stressed that the district might fall off "the cliff on which we now stand so precariously" if swift action is not taken.

The district's money problems, coupled with a lack of academic progress and safety issues, have prompted Knudsen to propose a total overhaul of how schools are organized and run. More students would be shifted to charter schools, and the central office would be shrunk, with district schools managed by staff or outside organizations who bid to run them.

See the connections they make? We have a massive budget hole! Ergo, we need a total overhaul of schools!

There. Is. So. Much. Wrong. With. This. Shit. Where to start?

Yes, the School District has a massive budget hole. Let’s all acknowledge that reality, while also remembering that it seems pointless to totally trust the always shifting numbers that come from a School District that still employs the same financial wizards as during the reign of Arlene Ackerman.

The School District will attempt to fill this massive, mostly state-caused, budget hole through the following ways:

  • Slashing wages and benefits from teachers, cafeteria workers and janitors.
  • Forcing charter schools to take seven percent less money, per child.
  • Scaring City Council into coughing up 94 million dollars more.
  • And, in the end, borrowing. A lot. (They will do this by issuing bonds.)

All told, the ‘true’ deficit that they are making up with the above factors is hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars.

Where does the restructuring of the School District, the closing of 40 schools and moving tens of thousands of kids to charter schools, fit into all of this? Surely, this radical change in the district is also a huge part of the savings?

Nope. Not really. Despite needing to plug this massive, hundreds of millions of dollars big hole, this radical reorganization will save something like 33 million dollars (according to the School District’s questionable numbers). Again, compared to all the rest, borrowing included, which stretch well into the hundreds of millions of dollars, these savings— if they are true— are almost a pittance.

As a parent put it eloquently last night:

Parent Rebecca Poyourow said the district was resorting to "crazy-making" rhetoric and unfairly connecting the reorganization plan with the budget.

"It is at best foolish - and at worst devious - for you to choose this moment of fiscal crisis to foist a poorly conceived and primarily ideological reorganization scheme on Philadelphia schools," Poyourow said. "This move smacks of manipulation."

Again, and again, and again, this needs to be stated: The massive overhaul of our schools and the massive budget deficit are not connected.

So, why are the Mayor and Knudsen connecting these two things?

I can think of at least two possible conclusions. First, the radical changes are simply a long-standing ideological push, led by people who believe markets should solve the puzzle that is urban education. (In this game, the Mayor is anywhere from the person behind the scenes, pushing this along, or, alternatively, someone who is also being taken for a ride.) Maybe it really is that simple.

Or second, maybe Knudsen and Nutter are overseeing a bankrupt district, and want to ‘look good’ for Wall Street. They know they need to borrow money to keep this crippled mess hobbling along, so they are going with what they think will appeal to creditors.

Neither, of course, has anything to do with how we properly educate our children. But, this is the shock doctrine, where logic and reason are but constructs to be shouted down.

So, please, ignore the screaming threats of nuclear Armageddon that Mayor Nutter and Knudsen are making on your porch. Because while they are doing so, your television, your dining room set, and your youngest child are all being carried out the back door.

Should a Starving Child Live Within his Means? What about a Starving School District?

Would the Daily News tell a starving child to live within his means? Would the Mayor say that a child who was facing benefit cuts in already measly food stamps to ‘grow up,’ face reality, and get used to a regular dose of rice, beans, and malnutrition?

Of course not. In fact, in the face of growing attacks on nutrition assistance, politicians across the city are taking on the “Food Stamp Challenge.” The premise of the challenge is to illustrate just how difficult it is for a poor person to feed themselves on $35 a week, and how impossible it would be to function with even less.

Allotted just $35 for a week of food, participants will learn firsthand the anxiety-driven calculus of finding nutrition with nearly no money.

"The benefit is being cut in draconian ways, and we're hoping to make people aware of how limiting the benefit already is," said Carey Morgan, executive director of the Coalition.


Nationwide, about $14 billion will be taken out of the food-stamp program, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). That translates into up to $15 a month being excised from an individual's monthly benefits. The average monthly benefit per person in Pennsylvania is $113. In New Jersey, it's around $133.


[Congressman Bob] Brady said it was "ludicrous" for people to have to eat on $35 a week, adding, "I'll see what I can get for that money. You can buy a lot of rice, but it's not the healthiest thing to eat. It's pretty difficult."

It is extremely hard to live with little money for food. It is commonsense then, that cutting those benefits, and simply stating that poor people should adjust, is a little inhumane. What if adjusting, while still being able to maintain reasonable nutrition, was simply impossible to do?

Homeless attack should not be ignored

I used to feel at home at Young Philly Politics, but it's time for this blog to start paying attention to Mayor Nutter's efforts to chase the homeless away from center city. People that don't only have a fake progressive. conscience could sign up to be at the table to feed the homeless twice, because now the third time in some places will result in a fine.

Thirty years ago I had hypoglycemia, without knowing what it was. I ended up panhandling for food struggling with myself not to eat out of trash cans and to buy peanut butter crackers instead of a cup of coffee drenched in sugar because I knew coffee as a meal made my concentration worse. However when a hurried commuter left a cup of coffee at the 40th and Woodland subway portal I finished it off.

Enclosed is a local link,
Enclosed is Dallas, NY and other cities,
Enclosed is what I posted elsewhere,

How about those who plan to be available to feed the homeless twice sign up with successive comments at the end of this blog

Guv sez: Drop Dead, Mayor sez: Keep smilin'

Sub-Headline: Sorry, Can’t Really Sugarcoat This Stuff Folks.

There’s no doubt that Philly’s in a heap of trouble from budgets being torturously made, as we speak, in Washington, Harrisburg and Philadelphia. It seems we’re assured of two years of bad news, first from service cuts, then from tax increases on working people and homeowners. With a little bit of bad luck we could face a mix of both. The moral? We’d better organize ourselves a lot better than we did in 2010 if we don’t want a third and fourth year helping of the same thing. And also, if you pass a corporate exec in the street, keep your hands in your pockets.

One year and five days ago...

As we fought with server issues, I missed the chance to note that on December 23 we passed the one year anniversary of the library lawsuit being filed in Common Pleas Court.

So much had to come together for that whole thing to work, including:

  • The outrage of citizens all over the city at the announced closures;
  • The botched and ever changing rationales of the administration;
  • People organizing all over the city;
  • And finally, seven brave women and AFSCME signing on to a lawsuit, joined a day later by Councilman Green.

I sat in the Courtroom as the hearing concluded; it was incredibly tense. As Judge Fox started making her ruling, it was really not clear who was about to win. Then, amidst a Hollywood like mix of murmuring, buzz and then loud applause, she said something like this:

The decision to close these eleven branch libraries is more than a response to a financial crisis; it changes the very foundation of our City. Two of the libraries scheduled to close, Haddinton and Holmesburg, will result in a reversion of the property back to the original grantor because of deed restrictions. No one questions the economic crisis which has rocked both the City and the Nation. However, we are a Nation of hope. A "crisis" evokes something temporary. Defendants argued there were more than enough libraries in Philadelphia. "Philadelphia has more libraries than any other city in the country." Our library system is more than a century old yet in three short months an economic crisis results in permanently closing eleven branches. This court does not envy the Mayor and the tough decisions he has had to make in this financial crisis. Yet, as this court is bound to follow the law, so is the Mayor. The permanent closing of neighborhood branch libraries is changing the very structure of the Free Library of Philadelphia and not just responding to a "financial crisis."

Fast forward a year, and not all is well with the libraries, by any means. But, they have survived, poised to rebound at a time when budgets and tax revenues return to normal. And, one year later, I think the Mayor would agree that libraries- Libraries!- have become the third rail in Philadelphia politics.

Closing Your Eyes Won't Help: 15 Days Later, A Demand to See Plan B (and to Discuss It)

On June 23, the Daily News editorial "We want the bad news too" requested details from the Nutter administration regarding its infamous "Plan B" budget that would take effect if the State failed to okay the City's proposed sales tax increase.

Fifteen days later, Harrisburg has yet to act, and the "Plan B" option -- described by sources in and out of City Hall as "apocalyptic" -- looms ever closer to reality. And still we know nothing more about the apparently services-blasting details.

Worse: unless I missed it, during the intervening days, there's been no echoing call from City Council, or anywhere else in government, to make Plan B public.

Well, it's time to make the Daily News' original request a demand.

As Ben Waxman's column rightly states, "It's Our Money" too, so we demand that Mayor Nutter lets us know how it's going to be spent, or not spent.

We demand to see Plan B.

Our Chance to Build a City Where Everyone has Internet Access

From The Daily News
The Internet for Everyone
By Todd Wolfson of Media Mobilizing Project and Hannah Sassaman of the Digital Justice Coalition

PHILADELPHIA is lining up for a race with a big prize - tens of millions in stimulus money to expand Internet access. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has authorized $7.2 billion for broadband programs, with everything from tricking out community centers with high-speed lines to mapping broadband availability already on the table as fundable programs.

The trouble w/temporary taxes

I was a big supporter of Mike Nutter from the time he announced his candidacy for Mayor of Philadelphia. And I'll give him appropriate credit for attempting to take serious fiscal measures to deal w/the serious fical problems facing Philadelphia.

But I question the notion that he can enact temporary hikes in property taxes + the local sales tax. Temporary taxes? Two words for that: Johnstown Flood.

The Johnstown Flood was an enormous disaster which occurred in 1889. It was so enormous that a special tax was added to liquor sales (in 1936) to assist in paying for relief to the affected areas. This tax remains on the books today, long after even the great grandchildren of the victims of the flood are gone.

Stop the proposed property tax hikes


1. Higher property taxes means our slow housing market will get even slower.
2. The city's property taxes are levied based on "WHO YOU KNOW". Just ask Senator Vincent Fumo.
3. Philadelphians carry one of the HIGHEST TAX BURDENs IN THE COUNTRY
with property taxes at their current rates .
4. Hundreds of millions of dollars of non-taxed real estate sits on the shelf at City Hall --- and they won't sell it to developers who will develop the land and put it in the hands of those who will pay property taxes.
5. For many people near retirement age who have seen their 401k funds dwindle, higher property taxes damage their only retirement asset.

When every other major city in America is cutting bloated public employee rolls, Philadelphia decides to place most of the burden on balancing the budget on homeowners and this is wrong.


Mayor Nutter's East Oak Lane Kitchen Table Chat

Last night, I sat in on Mayor Nutter’s most recent “kitchen table” talk with Philadelphians about the budget. (It was more of a living room talk, but I digress.) The first of these talks happened in Juniata a couple of weeks ago. The scene was pretty interesting, and took place in the home of some community leaders in East Oak Lane. The basic set up was about 15 people and the Mayor talking about the budget, and what people wanted out of services, if they were willing to have service cuts, if they were willing to raise taxes, etc. I guess I was ‘press,’ but, I was still sitting in someone’s living room, and so, I won’t directly quote anyone or anything like that.

This is my quick recap, as best I can remember it all. I am going to the budget thing tonight in Germantown, and, I have some more to say about the trash collection idea and this whole process, but I will save it all for later.


I know that in the Penn Praxis budget sessions, there are some complaints that the “fix is in-” specifically, that people are being asked to simply choose which services they want to cut, rather than thinking about enlarging the pie. I don’t think that was really the case yesterday. I have no idea how the Mayor’s staff will actually incorporate the responses here into the actual decision making process, but yes, the Mayor asked openly about both about services and taxes.

There was one preconception, however, that he does carry with him that I wonder about. Specifically, he implied that this is a structural, long-term problem. There was no sense that although this was a very deep and broad crisis, it was still something that would have an end point. We do have obvious structural issues in our budget, which we all know about. But, those are the same problems that candidate Nutter faced, too. We also have some temporary ones, for which I think we should consider temporary solutions.

The Meeting

The Mayor asked a bunch of different times if there were services that people were willing to do without. Frankly, not very many people were able to elucidate any, other than fat or waste. The Mayor asked a bunch of times, and there weren't a whole lot of answers.

What was clear was that, in that room at least, people don’t want any cuts that would mean less police on the streets or slowed fire response times. But again, there simply weren’t a ton of services that were obviously ‘cuttable,’ period. (And, there were some jokes about the libraries and the Mayor not wanting to go through that again.)

As you would expect, people didn’t jump up and ask for their taxes to be raised either. The trash collection fee came up, and while there was some resistance, there was what I would call grudging acceptance amongst people, especially if there were a means test of some kind. The refrain that came up a few times was “If I have to pay five dollars a week to have my trash collected so that a cop doesn’t get laid off, OK.” (I worry about the trash fee, but I will save that for another day.)

Other random stuff

It seemed apparent to me from his talk, as well as from the general consensus in the room, that the unions will be asked to pay towards their healthcare costs in upcoming negotiations. That will obviously be a huge sticking point in negotiations, but, considering what private employers do, and if this room was an example, it will present union leaders with a serious public relations problem.

That said, in a couple of different ways, the Mayor explicitly stood up for City workers. For example, in response to a question about waste, he basically said, for example, 1)being a sanitation worker is hard, and 2)most of them work pretty hard.

I had to run home to anxiously await the potential to be drug tested (long story), so I didn't stick around to ask the Mayor questions.

I am heading to the budget thing in Germantown tonight. It should be interesting.

Mayor Nutter: You can't Destroy the City to Save It

Yesterday the Mayor announced the horrible set of possible scenarios facing all of us in the next fiscal year starting July 1. It doesn't have to be that way. Here is One Philadelphia's plan to avert catastrophe. For more info, go to our website at


Mayor Nutter is forecasting a deficit of more than $1 billion over the life of the City's next Five Year Plan covering the period from Fiscal Year 2010 to 2014. To cover the shortfall, City officials have revealed that major service cutbacks are likely in such areas as trash delivery, homeless services, health centers, libraries, fire and police services, recreation centers and virtually everything else that Philadelphians rely upon. These cutbacks would come in the face of a growing economic upheaval that is throwing thousands of Philadelphians out of work and stressing the City's social service delivery service system to the breaking point.

Asian Americans United statement on Mayor Nutter's signing casino bill into law

This morning, 24 hours after meeting with representatives from the Chinatown community, Mayor Michael Nutter signed the legislation both re-zoning the Gallery to a gambling district and designating an area from 6th to Broad Streets and Arch to Chesnut Streets as an area where a CED (commercial entertainment district - the name for a zone that permits gambling) may be laid.

Below is Asian Americans United's statement:

Asian Americans United is disappointed but not surprised by the Mayor’s decision.

It has been clear from the start that there has been no intent to engage in an inclusive process that respects the voices of residents and communities. Worse still has been witnessing the dismantling of processes that have been established in our city precisely to protect residents from capricious and self-serving development.

Guess which library branches they want to close?

I'm learning now that of the 11 branches they want to close, about half of them are in economically depressed parts of the city. They include:

Durham, Eastwick, Fishtown, Fumo, Haddington, Holmesburg, Kingsessing, Logan, Ogontz, Queen Memorial, and Wadsworth

I'm hearing this from a librarian who says that even though this information probably isn't supposed to be public yet -- she wants the city to know what these budget cuts are doing to their communities.

Philadelphia has spent a lot of money to attract people like my unnamed librarian friend to this city. She came here to study at one of the best Library Science schools in the nation -- Drexel -- and stayed for years after earning her degree, waiting for a position in one of the cities' libraries.

DiCicco on casinos: "My fighting days are over."

Following last week's heated Chinatown town meeting, Councilman Frank DiCicco's office immediately fired off a mass email complaining that information he wanted to share "got lost" at the meeting.

At this week’s Washington Square West meeting, there was plenty of space for the Councilman to share his deeply divided view of neighborhood priorities.

The last question of the day came from a Chinatown resident, a college student, who after restating the opposition in Chinatown asked DiCicco this:

"And my question is . . . if Washington Square West and Chinatown and other neighborhood organizations are opposing the casino, if you would join us in fighting against the casino placement?"

And this is what he had to say:

"I have been fighting the placement of casinos almost four years? three and a half, four years now. But I have learned, and I think most of us have learned, as I was trying to, I tried a couple of times tonight to articulate . . . I look at this from the opinion that we’re gonna have two casinos in the city of Philadelphia. I said that in my opening statement. And at some point a decision will be made whether it’s by me or this administration or someone else. The Supreme Court of PA will ultimately make that decision. So if Foxwoods tonight decided that there’s a third location that they would like to do some due diligence on – I doubt that very much – but if they were, all those sites are in play.

So when you ask me will I fight? If you want me not to introduce CED legislation on Thursday and you want me to stand outside with picket lines and do all the things . . . I did for the last three and a half years, honestly, it’s not going to make a difference in the end.

Poor and Homeless Philadelphians Challenge The Presidential Candidates: “We are voting too!”

March and Rally Will Highlight Issues of Jobs, Housing, and Services; Coalition is Registering Thousands of Low-income and Homeless Persons

Monday, September 22
March - Broad St. and Fairmount Ave., 1:00 p.m.
Rally - LOVE Park, 2:00 p.m.

[PHILADELPHIA] In their quest for the White House, are Senators John McCain and Barack Obama addressing the critical issues facing millions of Americans who are low-income or homeless? That question is being raised by a coalition of Philadelphians who are mobilizing during this election year.

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