Michael Nutter

Mayor Nutter forgot the meaning of "public" in public ed

It probably wouldn’t surprise you to hear a Pennsylvania politician questioning the very definition and premise of public education. It may surprise you that Philadelphia’s leading Democrat is on record saying public vs. private ought to be meaningless when it comes to education.

At a press conference Thursday, Mayor Nutter said parents deserve school choice and that public, private, religious designations don’t matter. In his talk, the Mayor went on to say:

"I’m not getting caught up in all this. At my level, these are esoteric debates that ultimately don't mean anything to these young people sitting here in this room.”

Children care about their teachers, recess, lunch and whether they’re in a safe learning environment.

“That’s what this is all about,” he cried out.

While the mayor certainly hasn’t been hanging around the high schoolers I know, he may be right that my nine-year-old isn’t really paying attention to such discussions.

Does that mean we shouldn’t either?

Ask a parent who can’t dream of paying a $26,100 tuition bill from Penn Charter whether a quality free public elementary school in their neighborhood is a matter of meaningless “esoteric debate.”

Philadelphia public schools are 85% students of color and 80% economically disadvantaged. We have 20,000 children classified as special need and almost 12,000 English language learners. Is it “meaningless” that private and religious institutions hold the right to discriminate against and exclude those whom they choose not to serve? There’s no mandate for private schools to provide language services for new immigrants, serve special needs students, or take recently adjudicated youth. They have the right to promote religious scripture and denounce same sex orientation. They have the right to deny collective bargaining and employ non-certified teachers.

Would the Mayor consider it a matter of meaningless “esoteric debate” to take some lessons from Philadelphia’s failed history with privateeers like Edison Schools Inc. which exploited public funds for private gain with miserable results? Is it meaningless to take a look at our neighbors in Chester City and consider the fractured relationship they have with a charter school run by a for-profit company and a bankrupt school district?

I’m sure our governor would love for us to call concerns about transparency with voucher programs like the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) “meaningless” and “esoteric.” A recent New York Times investigation found that EITC programs nationwide permit forfeited tax dollars to go toward private and religious institutions that might otherwise be blocked from receiving public monies.

No matter to Pennsylvania. Since 2001, PA has diverted close to $400 million to organizations that give out the scholarships. The state's program was cited extensively in the Times investigation for questionable practices. And Harrisburg just approved a new $50 million per year tax credit targeted toward students who live in areas with low-performing schools.

Notably, the Times cited the architects of the program who crowed about the intricate and ingenious ways they were able to evade scrutiny. Perhaps if fewer people treated this as an “esoteric” subject, maybe there would be more public accountability.

We have more than a decade of money and broken promises poured into the idea that there’s some magic solution to neglected public schools. Philadelphia has been ground zero for every manner of experimentation from reformers touting the miracles of the private sector. When the Mayor calls the “public” in public education a mere label, he dumbs down important conversations about what lessons we’ve gained from using public funds for too many failed private enterprises.

He plays into widespread disinvestment in public education and the resulting gross inequities. He gives cover to a Governor whose billion dollar slashing of public education funding and promotion of private and charter enterprises has resulted in school districts across the state starved to the point of dysfunction.

Thanks to such efforts a Philadelphia public school classroom is $78,000 poorer than a classroom in a surrounding suburb. Three-quarters of our elementary schools lack a certified librarian. We’ve got one nurse for every 1500 students and a mindset that only guarantees nursing care for the “medically fragile.” Is it any surprise that the choice debate is here and not in Lower Merion which generously funds its schools?

The Mayor’s right that we don’t need meaningless esoteric debates. What parents want is a free, safe, well resourced neighborhood public school for our kids and we want to know why politicians can move heaven and hell to make everything BUT that a priority.

We want a smart conversation about the things our public schools SHOULD provide to every child and what resources it will take to make that happen. We want our political leaders to know that a public school is a communal responsibility – not a matter of individual whims.

Most of all we need our Mayor to understand that - at his level - underfunded public schools serving high poverty, high needs children versus a failed history of exploitation and privatization is never a meaningless esoteric debate.

Philly Property Taxes

Dave Davies wrote this excellent piece on a tax estimator I prepared. http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/off-mic/item/38850

My comment to it as follows: Transparency & PA Constitution — Bill Green 2012-05-21 22:57
In addition to Dave's much better summary than my own I would add the following. The public should have enough knowledge about what the administration proposes to form an opinion. They really had no data without the spreadsheet. I don't predict what people will think about the data. It may well be that knowing the best and worst case people want AVI. I would argue putting bounds on it may be helpful although I am not making a judgement about whether or not it will be. Openness and transparency and adequate time for active citizen engagement should be our touchstone for anything this important. It was missing.

Also, we are the only major city in the country to not have the ability to tax residential properties at a different rate from commercial and industrial properties due to the uniformity clause of the PA constitution. The use and occupancy tax is the work around. It does not make us less competitive. The business taxes we have, especially the 6.5% net income tax DESTROY JOBS.

Finally, if the numbers I have are wrong, I will change my conclusion. I make decisions on data and evidence. If the data is different, my conclusion will be. I am being asked to act, I am assessing the data I have, I wish I had more data.

To see the release and estimator go to http://www.greenforphiladelphia.com/content/councilman-bill-green-introd...

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?

My Journal Entry in the Chronicles of "Trying to Fix the Vacant Land Problem"

I'd hoped to write here earlier about my work on all of this, the "land bank bill" introduced by Councilwoman Sanchez and the new vacant land policy being proposed by Mayor Nutter, and respond to some of the recent online discussion. No way it doesn't sound like an excuse, but I've been busy.

As most of you know, I work as a lawyer and legislative assistant in Maria Quinones Sanchez's office. There are a lot of ways I could spend my time in this job, and use my expensive education to try to help the city. But so far, since my focus is housing and vacant land, by far most of my time is spent navigating our land acquisition and disposition systems. That's helping, or failing to help, constituents get abandoned private land and publicly-owned land - elderly Puerto Rican couples who have been growing food across the street from their house for 20 years; nonprofits looking for more secure space; churches trying to stabilize their blocks; urban farmers; artists creating galleries; activists desperate to keep drug dealing and all the associate violence from metastasizing in empty buildings and lots. Nothing moves, or nothing moves without a truly epic amount of unnecessary work. It's Sisphysian. It's endless. It's wasting my time and my tax-funded salary. (For the record, it's not that big of a salary.)

Yesterday our great architecture columnist Inga Saffron meditated on Twitter that the problem moving that vacant land out of public inventory is "politics." (And, mostly mystifyingly, that "city policies and politics encourage owners to use vacant lots for parking, billboards & other unproductive uses.") This is seeing the symptoms and misdiagnosing the disease.

As far as I see, glaring problem number 1 is our lack of modern and coherent computerized infrastructure to manage vacant land. Glaring problem number 2 is current policies for acquisition, disposition, and pricing that do not match the needs or market conditions of most neighborhoods in the city. Both of those keep land stuck for years, often decades. Our Council office tries to help these stuck wheels move for our constituents and developers, but sometimes we are an obstruction. That's because glaring problem number 3 is lack of affirmative land use planning that would give us some metrics to agree what uses should go where. For a given proposed transaction, we don't get meaningful information about who the applicant is, what they want to do, whether they can actually do it, and then we have figure out whether we think what they want to do makes any sense, because we get no meaningful planning or policy guidance as to whether, say, selling a residentially-zoned lot to someone who lives a block away for parking is a good idea. Which is all not to defend or condemn "councilmanic privilege." But that practice exists now in the vacuum created by a dysfunctional system, and in part fills its gaps. If we get to a future system that is computerized, more transparent, and has written policies, the Council role in land disposition - whatever it ends up being - is going to function a lot differently.

Which brings me back to my first link, Patrick Kerkstra's article from this week about where we are with all this. If and when the city launches its "front door" to coordinate land sales, several big steps will have been taken. The Redevelopment Authority commissioned and is implementing a new database system that will contain files that are now inaccessible, and allow oversight and tracking of application status. That door will be at least cracked for more accurate pricing methods, appeal of absurd appraisals, and reduced or nominal price for a greater range of uses - uses the city already subsidizes one way or another and tries to encourage left and right in neighborhoods that have, as Dan pointed out in that Twitter conversation, negative land value.

But we'll still need a land bank, which is just a way of saying 'a more efficient vehicle for handling vacant land.' Otherwise there are still different agencies, different incentives and motivations, fragmented title, duplication and overlap, and time and money lost internally coordinating all of that. We've had massive cuts of the federal and state dollars that we've been using to run our current housing and land agencies and programs, and the cuts are continuing to come. We can't afford to leave the existing "alphabet soup" in place. We need to look top to bottom, probably with outside help from a foundation or university, and think about how we need to restructure that system to avoid duplication and get the most out of those shrinking resources.

The land bank bill, as introduced, is not meant to create a new and separate entity. It starts with the premise that whatever agency manages acquisition and disposition of surplus vacant land should have that as its mission and specialized focus (and the Public Property Department should be free to concentrate on managing active public facilities, and not need to play real estate agent). It also acknowledges that the Redevelopment Authority (PRA) must exist in some measure, because only it has legal power from the state to condemn blighted land for redevelopment. The land bank would exist in relationship to the PRA (either the PRA as an arm of the land bank, or vice versa) - one staff, one office space, but distinct rules and governance structures based on existing legal requirements and what fits the city's needs.

Some of the improvements mandated by the bill: a computerized, accessible inventory of public and privately owned vacant land; a system for getting ongoing notice of the status of vacant parcels; a strong role for community plans and the coming Comprehensive Plan; written policies that are updated biannually through a public process (a huge change!); requirement for ethics and conflict of interest policies, developed in the same public way; annual reporting.

But there's still a lot to figure out, including the best way to structure and improve Council's role in the process. Cleveland has a sign-off sheet, where all agencies, including the legislature, okay each transaction. We could have hearings, which have the advantage of being public but the disadvantage of taking time and resources. There's no magic answer, but the land bank is essentially a blank canvas to structure a system that actually makes sense, and the discussion is still active and open as to what that should look like - please continue to comment and give feedback, and please advocate loud and hard for change. The day I can permanently delete my Excel spreadsheets tracking hundreds of uncompleted property transfers seriously can not come soon enough.

Will Michael Nutter Be the Deciding Vote on the Shale Bill?

Update: The Pennsylvania Senate approved the shale fee bill Tuesday by a vote of 31-19. The House followed suit Wednesday, approving it by a narrow vote of 101-90.

Will Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter be the deciding vote on a bad Marcellus Shale bill?

In typical fashion, the Pennsylvania Legislature is ramming through a shale bill, including a natural gas drilling fee, at the very last minute that is worse than anything we have seen so far.

Rumors are that the Mayor is pressuring Philadelphia Senators to take the deal, which is bad for all Pennsylvanians and not so hot for Philly.

There has been tremendous pressure on Southeastern Senators to hold out for a tax that is more than a pittance, and to restore to local governments the constitutional right to protect their communities from the excesses of drillers gone wild.

The Democratic leadership team of Jay Costa and Vince Hughes have breathed life into a Democratic Caucus that has existed pretty much to collect their paychecks. They have done a fabulous job pushing for strong environmental protection against a legion of gas lobbyists, while the Governor's inclination is to give the drillers the keys to the state and walk away. Philadelphia Senators Vince Hughes and Tony Williams are the most likely to take the bait.

We need a round two on the shale bill. Our Senators, and the Mayor, should hold out for a better deal.

Getting The Story Straight on How Decisions Were Made at The School District

Already the news articles and columns have begun attempting to paint former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman as the victim in recent events. Opinions are being expressed that she must have been telling the truth about her role in the Martin Luther King High School debacle. Annette John-Hall even offered an open apology to Ackerman in her Inquirer column last week.

Before we all appear to have been flashy-thinged by the Men in Black, let’s take a reality check here. We are being asked to believe that all of Ackerman’s testimony in the recent report issued by Mayor Nutter’s Chief Integrity Officer is true. We are being asked to believe that her story, unchallenged by any credible witnesses, is gospel. However, the only others present at meetings described by her—State Representative Dwight Evans and his associates-- refused to give testimony; those present during phone calls were colleagues and staff whose interests lie with Dr. Ackerman.

We don’t need to turn back the pages of recent history too far to remind ourselves of all the prevarications, disingenuous answers and outright lies uttered by Dr. Ackerman during her reign in Philadelphia.

When the story of the backroom meeting with SRC Chair Robert Archie and Dwight Evans broke this past March, Ackerman’s spokesperson maintained that she knew nothing about it. After a month of rumor and speculation, Assistant Superintendent Leroy Nunery finally admitted —through his representative— to being the “unnamed district representative” present at that meeting in Martha Woodall’s April 24 Inquirer story. However, Dr. Nunery’s testimony in the recently published report states not only that he was there but that he immediately reported the events to Ackerman, describing the meeting to her as something out of “the Godfather”. Begging the question: Was she lying then or is she lying now?

Let us recount just some of the incidents over the years in which Dr. Ackerman has been less than honest. Her excuse for not immediately dealing with the crisis at South Philadelphia High School was that an Asian student actually incited the violence by harassing an African-American disabled student, a story for which she offered no proof and which has never been verified. She claimed to be out of town when the attempted silencing and termination of teacher Hope Moffet began; she used that same excuse when the District tried to change the acceptance process for magnet schools without parent notification (she has no phone or email?). She initially denied playing any part in the no-bid contract scandal in which business was diverted from one company, which had already begun the work, to another (non-approved) company. When caught in that lie, she said that she was only trying to help out minority businesses. She held an awards ceremony at Roosevelt Middle School after test scores rose fifty-three points in just two years, a feat which she must known was statistically impossible. She has yet to explain how she allowed several administrators, including South Philadelphia High School Principal LaGreta Brown, to be appointed by the school district without full accreditation. Throughout this past summer, Ackerman insisted that she was not leaving, telling her own supporters “I’m staying” while simultaneously negotiating her exit contract. She violated that same contract by subsequently engaging in public slander against her former colleagues.

Let us not forget the most egregious lie of all: that she did not know that the school district was heading towards a massive deficit which has had a disastrous effect on every school in Philadelphia. She offered her highly questionable explanation in an interview given after she resigned: “I didn’t understand the numbers.”

So when Dr. Ackerman says in the city’s report that she did not know that Melonease Shaw, to whom she paid thousands of school district dollars for “consulting”, was affiliated with Representative Evans, I believe that some skepticism on the part of the public is to be expected. When we hesitate to take seriously her assertion that she never knew that politics was involved in running a major city school district, can you really blame us?

Some crucial questions remain unanswered: how did Mosaica, whose CEO John Porter is a identified in the report as a colleague of Dr. Ackerman’s at the Broad Academy (a privately-funded institution which schools future superintendents according to a pro-charter, pro-voucher curriculum), come to be a finalist on the list of providers at Martin Luther King High? And how is Ackerman shocked, shocked at Chairman Archie’s actions in overriding the wishes of a school community after having done the same herself in more than one instance? When the West Philadelphia High School community protested the unexpected takeover of their school, Ackerman’s response was to accuse the parents of a having a conflict of interest. When students, teachers and parents protested the unjustified giveaway of Audenreid High to Kenny Gamble’s Universal company, their wishes were ignored. Now we are to believe that she found this recent overriding of parents at King “tragic”.

Dr. Ackerman’s account of recent events should be investigated in a follow-up report. The inappropriate, possibly illegal, acts of Chairman Archie and Rep. Evans are brought to light in this report and both should face the consequences for those acts and the subsequent cover-up. Why should we spend the time and energy doing the same regarding Dr. Ackerman’s possible transgressions? First, we must ensure that no future superintendent will be allowed to take on the mantle of royalty and go unchallenged by her own superiors. And the most important reason: because the public has a right to know.

Lisa Haver is an education activist; she recently retired from teaching middle school in Philadelphia.

Philly Needs to Ignore the Hate of Stu Byskofsky, and Make a Smart, Humane Decision to Change our Immigration Policies

Stu Bykofsky is a man in search of enemies. This is old news from the man who suggested that another 9/11 style terrorist attack would benefit America, or when he is rallying Philadelphians to stop the incipient evil doers of our time (bike commuters).

Fresh off of eulogizing his recently deceased, charitably minded, anti-immigrant, racist friend, Joey Vento, (Vento said things like “[Illegal Hispanics] are killing, like, 25 of us a day … molesting about eight children a day … All we’re getting is drug dealers and murderers.”), Stu struck again. This go-round of Stu's is truly hate-filled, and appears to be the work of a zealot, or more charitably, a man fearful of the world changing around him, lashing out in any way he can. The target this time? Those same brown folks Vento hated, and a City Councilwoman that he has a disturbing level of vitriol for-- María Quiñones-Sánchez-- and her efforts to lessen harm from the city's participation in the so-called "Secure Communities" program. (Secure Communities is the federal program that encourages local law enforcement to share data with ICE, letting the feds deport a lot more people than they otherwise would be able to. While Pennsylvania has not yet signed on, Philadelphia has at least one contract to allow ICE real-time access to our arrest records system, called "PARS.")

Before we discuss some of the substance of Stu’s ridiculous column, it is probably worthwhile to quickly dress down his continued xenophobic rants against Councilwoman Sánchez. (Note: for those that don’t know me, I am truly biased in favor of María. I have loooonng supported her, I have donated money to her campaign, I have volunteered for her, and, one of the most important people in my life now works for her. My bias, of course, comes from believing in María, like many other progressives in the city. We would need a lot more of those fabled psychiatry sessions to find out where Stu’s biases come from.)

For many progressives, María is one of ‘ours.’ But, despite the supposed exalted status of incumbency, the party did not support María last May. Instead, most of the structure lined up to support Danny Savage, the young, white, connected ward leader who they had placed in office once before. (If you haven't, please read this piece from a few months ago.)

I go through all of that for Stu, who asks this:

Who is Quinones-Sanchez working for?

Um:

Seventh Councilmanic District, Primary Election, May, 2011
Dan Savage: 39.6%
Maria Quinones Sanchez: 60.4%

Yeah, that happened. It was even in the newspaper.

Stu then goes onto to say other ridiculous things about María, such as "when she puts those here illegally - including ex-cons - above her own constituents, she is unfit to hold office.”

"Unfit to hold office" is probably better than the time he seemed to basically say that she was un-American. But, if you wonder whether the rest of his hate filled, xenophobic rant against María hit its intended audience, check out the ever embarrassing Philly.com comments.

....

Substantively (if we can call it that), Stu’s latest problem is the devastating report by the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

The report is based on case summaries from immigration lawyers, who provided the author with vivid examples of why local and state governments need to seriously consider their participation in Secure Communities. As the report states:

Anecdotal case data collected by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) from its attorney members, representing 127 cases from across the country, offers clear evidence that the way in which DHS engages state and local law enforcement (LLEAs) in immigration enforcement is distracting the department from its stated priorities.

Stu implies that the 127 case studies listed (9 from PA), many of which are totally horrific, are somehow the entire universe of wrongful deportations. This would be clarified if Stu looked up the meaning of the word ‘anecdote,' or bothered to speak with lawyers at places like HIAS or Nationalities Services Center who see these cases first-hand.

Of course, a couple of actual Philadelphia journalists have looked at the data, and it is worrisome, at best:

According to ICE data, 238 of the 421 Philadelphia suspects transferred from Philadelphia Police to ICE custody between October 27, 2008 and February 28, 2011 were never convicted of a crime, one of the highest rates under Secure Communities in the country. Another 86 were classified by ICE as level 2 or 3 offenders and 97 were convicted of level 1 offenses, which are the most serious crimes.

Denvir and Ferrick's article also has those meddlesome anecdotes:

One moment Teresa Garcia's son was there, the next he was gone.

Garcia said her 25-year-old son was deported to Mexico last year after being arrested by Philadelphia police for allegedly making threats against a friend who had failed to repay a loan. Her son was innocent, his mother said. He never got a chance to prove it.

Once arrested, information about him and his case was instantly turned over to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, who determined that he was an undocumented immigrant and removed him from the U.S.

The young man had lived in America since he was two. He had no memory of his homeland. Still, back he went.

The City’s response to the above?

Deputy Mayor of Public Safety Everett Gillison sympathizes with critics of the program, but he says that the Mayor is unlikely to change his mind.

"They are supposed to target those in the level 1 [high-level crime] area. We've looked at these, and we have asked them why a lot of people getting deported are in level 2 or level 3. But on a case-by-case basis, that's not really our call," says Gillison. "I can suggest to you that you will find any number of stories that will break my heart, I'm sure. But I'm not dealing with a perfect situation."

I respect Gillison a lot. But that is a totally ridiculous response. Yeah, we know this doesn’t work like it is supposed to. Yeah, you will find cases that break my heart! But, sorry, on we march!

There are a lot of problems with participating in something like Secure Communities.

On the most basic level, we don’t need to participate in the government’s schizophrenic, cruel deportation game (see, for example, these three articles which ran in three days earlier this month: here, here and here), which is targeting human beings who are looking for better lives, and contributing to their communities.

I have personally seen (anecdote alert!) how unscrupulous people threaten immigrants with deportation in order to take advantage of them- oftentimes in explicitly criminal ways. Other stories abound too, including immigrants literally being targeted and attacked on our streets, the cops coming out, not getting interpreters, arresting everyone, including the victims, and before anything is actually sorted out, guess what happens? In other words, not only may witnesses not come forward, but victims may not either, because police make snap judgments, arrest people, and boom, the Deportation Machine, rings the bell, as another life is ruined.

But, even from a pure self-interest angle, in a city with a 'stop snitching' culture, putting up barriers between immigrant communities and the police is a really bad thing. The further we go down this road, the worse this relationship will be, and the less people will talk to the police, no matter how many times the Mayor refers to wanted criminals as cowards or assholes. We don’t want that, right?

Opting out of participation in Secure Communities is what we should do. Period. It is a bad program, that does not work. Opting out is not a crazy position. Officials across the country, including the recently departed, long, long time DA of Manhattan, the Governor of New York and the Mayor of Boston, have lined up against this program. Meanwhile, in Philly, the Mayor’s office admits the program isn’t working right, yet on we go, with the Deportation Machine chugging along.

But, even if we decide to participate in Secure Communities, there is a compromise that could probably work. Strangely, it was proposed by that brown woman that (Daily News Columnist) Stu Bykofsky loves to hate, and it was approvingly endorsed by ... the Daily News editorial board:

Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez proposes the city delay the time it allows ICE to access records, until after a preliminary hearing when it is clearer who might be a victim and who might be a defendant. This seems like a reasonable compromise to a tough issue.

How un-American of them. The Daily News Editorial Board is clearly unfit to hold office write editorials.

Our participation in this cruel program hurts the city, hurts good people, and, frankly, it is just really stupid public policy, from a city that makes enough mistakes as it is. The rants of tired old men aside, this compromise is the least we could do.

Ending the Celebrity CEO Role of Schools Chief

Good riddance to Arlene Ackerman. If there was one thing that was totally bizarre about Ackerman's last stand, it was that she kept making bizarre statements that she refused to "play politics," with bizarro quotes like:

Is it a crime to stand for children rather than stooping down into the political sandbox for a politician's campaign victory?

and

I've been criticized for not being a politician," Ackerman said. "I am unapologetic about [not] making deals that hurt our children.

Uh... Up down, black white, dogs cats. You get the picture.

On her way out, Ackerman lobbed a few bombs in the direction of Dwight Evans and Michael Nutter. As a result, both Nutter and Evans have serious questions to answer about Ackerman’s allegations. But, the idea that Ackerman would not “play politics” is one of those 21st century, cognitive dissonance moments, up there with death panels and the like.

Remember Heidi Ramirez? She was the former member of the School Reform Commission who actually asked real questions of Ackerman at SRC meetings, and actually listened to parents and community members as they testified. She was forced out, and it was an open secret that Ackerman had elected officials helping to do the deed, insinuating that Ramirez didn’t care or understand the problems of African-American kids, and that her oversight (you know, her job) was part of a personal attack against Ackerman. So, out went Ramirez, and any semblance of oversight.

David Simon could not have written a story line about Arlene Ackerman. It would have been seen as a little too cynical and unrealistic. How could someone actually make up this departure? It was like watching a car crash. In slow motion. For two months straight.

Again, it was an open secret that Ackerman was leaving- the only question was how much money that they would pay her to go away. And, so, what did the “unpolitical” Ackerman do? In what appeared to be a clear attempt to leverage a higher buyout, she watched as the city was again set aflame among our old racial lines. (And, OK, she might have done a lot more than just watch.) You cannot get more craven than a politician who knows that she is leaving, pretending otherwise and turning Philadelphians on each other, all for an extra plate of gold or two on her garish, over-sized parachute.

So, good riddance, Arlene Ackerman. Don’t spend all of our money in one place.

As we go forward, I strongly hope that we realize that we desperately need to step away from the celebrity CEO model of school governance. The celebrity CEO culture, an infection that spread from Wall Street to the classrooms of our city, has done nothing but enrich a couple of people, while we are left to pick up the pieces.

So, no thank you, Joel Klein. Rubert Murdoch needs you more than we do. And, Michelle Rhee, if you hear the phone ring, its not us. Actually, we would probably go straight to voicemail, given that USA Today keeps calling to ask those pesky questions that you refuse to answer about systemic cheating in DC.

One person is not going to fix our school system. We need a committed oversight board, elected or not, to do its job. And we need someone- anyone- to identify what is Philadelphia’s philosophy and vision with respect to our public schools. When we have oversight, and a vision of what we want, then we should hire a skilled educator and community leader to fill the role of Superintendent.

Helen said the following, in her post a few weeks ago (The fittingly titled "Ackerman’s Last Days"):

If there’s one lesson we should remember about education reform, it’s that it relies less on numbers, data and yes even money, than it does on the delicate fabric of community and social trust. These relationships determine the sustainability and engagement of a whole society’s efforts to educate our children.

The goes for more than firing Ackerman, of course. It should be front and center as we choose another leader of our schools.

Living in "Hamsterdam"

Some of you may know I work in the office of City Councilwoman María Quiñones-Sánchez. The Seventh Councilmanic District starts a few blocks above Girard Avenue and slices up along the west side of Frankford and then Kensington Avenue, neatly avoiding any meaningful concentration of wealth or gentrification (Northern Liberties, Temple, Fishtown). If you think there is something fancy that might be in the district, like a beer garden or coffee shop or condoized factory, it turns out to be on the other side of the line. Instead the district sweeps in the remnants of our industrial corridors and the poor, vibrant but brutalized communities who were left living in that tiny two-story factory housing after successive waves of flight.

I work on housing and land issues, with a subspeciality in the variety of ways deeds are forged or otherwise stolen, and those stolen houses sold, mostly to unsuspecting unsophisticated Spanish-speaking victims who just want somewhere affordable to live. I try to figure out how to keep a slumlord's 400+ properties in foreclosure from being turned over to speculators or abandonment. I field calls from people trying to legitimately buy vacant lots, for side yards to keep the dealers out, or because they're the dealers and want to control the block. The names on those deeds are often Jewish people who left sixty years ago and then died. Nothing's ever probated, and there's no way to legally get almost any of those lots to people who can secure and care for them.

There are a lot of vacant properties in Kensington - the aerial view on Google maps is a beautiful deep green - and the work involved in trying to navigate the broken city systems that deal with those properties, and to push policy reforms to unbreak those systems, it's endless (my boyfriend can tell you he has to fight to get me to stop thinking about lots so I can fall asleep). All that's another news story.

This post is about Philadelphia Weekly's new list of the 'top ten' drug corners in Philadelphia. The last list, in 2007, had corners that were scattered around the city. 2011's are all compounded in the same tiny wasted stretch of Kensington where you find all those lots I dream about: "from Lehigh to the south to Westmoreland, roughly a half-mile stretch, and from Kensington Avenue to N. Fifth Street, a distance just less than a mile." It's a blunt tool, picking ten drug corners based mostly on arrest frequency, but it captures something bigger and truer: I know all these blocks, and the 10 corners featured are surrounded by 10 and 10 and 10 more of the same. "No area of the city came close to Kensington and Fairhill in terms of the density and brazenness of the drug selling."

This is Hamsterdam.

But what does it mean to have a de facto Hamsterdam in Kensington when people, families, senior citizens, all still live there?

Green Party in April: meeting to decide candidates and demonstration against fracking (join us!)

Two events coming up (visit http://gpop.org for the Green Party's website):

Earth Day Demonstration Against Fracking

Date: Thursday, April 21, 2011

Time: 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm

Location: Dept. of Environmental Protection, 2 Main St., Norristown, PA

Notes: Demonstration at DEP to demand a ban on gas drilling. Stop polluting our drinking water as well as our waterways.

This demonstration has been called by the Green Party of Philadelphia and endorsed by Brandywine Peace Community, BuxMont Coalition for Peace Action, Citizens for Clean Water, Green Party of Delaware County, Green Party of Montgomery County, Protecting our Waters and Saint Vincent’s Peace and Justice Ministry.

For more info: Green Party of Phila. 215-243-7103 or gpop@gpop.org.

Green Party Of Phila. General Membership Meeting, 4/28/2011, 7:00 pm (open to public)

Date: Thursday April 28, 2011

Time: 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm

Lenora Berson Promoted, Improved Philadelphia

Philadelphia has had many political and community activists over the years. We have had only one Lenora Berson.

Lenora died earlier this month at the age of 83. She was an impassioned advocate who could teach a class, do social work, organize testimony and demonstrations,write speeches, lobby elected officials, initiate candidacies for public office, mastermind election campaigns, write articles and books, take photographs worthy of being shown in art galleries, promote Philadelphia's hidden gems, and organize events to promote the city that no else had thought of.

The great preserver?

Ben Waxman has a column up turning on its head the now-received wisdom that the mayor should be judged by what he hasn't done. There's been a chorus for a while arguing that the mayor has missed opportunities -- for deeper ethics reform (Catherine Lucey), or for taking the recessionary opportunity to minimize government for the long term (Larry Platt).

But Ben's point is much of what the mayor hasn't done is to the great benefit of the city: he hasn't slashed jobs, and largely preserved services. In the context of what has been happening in other major cities, that's no small feat.

PS congrats, Ben for the byline!

Could Sam Katz win?

The election coming up is starting to stress me out, so I'm starting to just think about next year.

No one's said anything in a while about the Mayor's race after all that commotion a few weeks back that Sam Katz might run against Nutter in the primary. Does anyone think he really has a shot at knocking Nutter off?

Mayor Nutter Can't Have It Both Ways on Immigration

Maria and Mayor Nutter

Mayor Nutter spoke at an immigrant rights rally at Welcome Park yesterday organized by the Pennsylvania chapter of the Reform Immigration for America campaign. The rally was intended to show that Philadelphia is a welcoming city to immigrants, in contrast to Arizona, where the anti-immigrant law SB1070 was implemented in part yesterday.

WHYY News reported that Mayor Nutter said he was excited by the decision of Judge Bolton to strike down key elements of Arizona’s immigration law.

Nutter got cheers from the assembled crowd when he said, “Immigration for some has become the new segregation in the United States, that's what’s really going on, people need to pay attention to what this is about.”

But what is really going on in Philadelphia? What is this really about?

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