Editorial: Pay to play? No way!

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.
Send let­ters to the ed­it­or to: pronews@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at staff@bsmphilly.com.

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