Only in Philadelphia could the public school system get away with making community athletic groups pay what essentially is an extra tax to play games in public school gymnasiums after school hours.
Or can it?
The School District of Philadelphia’s plan to impose user fees at nights and on weekends is not a done deal. With three consecutive years of property-tax hikes and a not-so-temporary hike in the sales tax, Northeast Philly parents, already taxed up the wazoo, must say “NO!”
Much of the blame for the school district’s poor fiscal condition lies squarely in the laps of past members of the School Reform Commission, which a year ago inexplicably gave $905,000 to inept ousted Superintendent Arlene Ackerman to buy out her contract.
That $905,000 could have paid for many hours of after-hours play time at school gyms throughout the city. City Controller Alan Butkovitz, who has the statutory power to withhold questionable or otherwise improper city payments, should have tried to block the Ackerman fiscal fiasco.
City taxpayers should tell Mr. Butkovitz, who is likely to seek re-election next year, to join City Council members in instructing the school district — and if necessary, the city recreation department and the entire city government — to forget about charging taxpayers to use public facilities already financed by their (public) tax dollars.
Philadelphia residents and merchants must also demand the city crack down on tax cheats and finally collect the $515 million owed to the city and school district. If it does that, there will be plenty of money to keep school gymnasiums open for kids who just want to play ball.
There was good news on Tuesday when Mayor Nutter granted a partial reprieve for the clubs as he announced that the city would pay $338,000 in gym fees. The money will fund court time at 25 gyms until 8:30 on weeknights and all day on Saturdays for five months starting Dec. 5.
Here’s the bad news: The athletic groups will still have to pay-out-of-pocket if they want to use any of the other 80 school gyms after 7:30 on weeknights or on Saturdays.
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