Archive: May, 2012
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A coalition of parents groups and schools are calling for a "vote of no confidence" in the School Reform Commission's recently-unveiled plan to close at least 49 schools and expand its charter program by 40%.
In a press release issued by Parents United founder Helen Gym and Home and School Council president Dolores Soloman — and signed by more than fifty parent organizations and individual schools — the group calls for the SRC to rethink its plan, citing the following critiques (copied below, verbatim).
The "vote" will presumably take place during tonight's SRC meeting, which is exploding on Twitter (#phillyeducation, #occupySRC) as parents, teachers, advocates, and, yes, even Occupy Philly, pour in for a showdown.
1. The budget fails to uphold the District’s core mission to provide essential personnel and
quality instructional resources to public schools. Schools have borne the brunt of years of fiscal starvation and mismanagement. This year alone schools lost over $300 million in personnel and instructional supports. There has been no provision made to prioritize restoration of cuts. Another $121 million in instructional spending cuts was found in the budget but has never been explained.
2. The District failed to include parents in decision-making. Despite parents taking the time to participate in committees and testifying repeatedly at community budget meetings, the FY13 budget reflects very few of our priorities. In contrast, our Chief Recovery Officer has openly praised his relationship with the Boston Consulting Group, which earned $1.5 million for six weeks worth of work– as "intimate" and "hand in glove".
3. It promotes a secretive, massive school closings plan without a full public vetting of the
criteria for closing schools or a quality plan for transferring students or transforming schools.Many schools had deep concerns about the process which unfolded this past spring.
4. The FY13budget balances a $218 million deficit on the backs of children while leaving the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania off the hook to pay its fair share to schools. Districts all across the state are suffering. As a state takeover district, we need a plan that shows how the state and other entities will support our district.
5. Finally, the budget promotes non-public options at the expense of public ones. It does not demonstrate efficiencies around private contracts. It promotes a massive expansion of charters while targeting public schools for widespread closure and budget cuts. The choice to move from public to non-public options via 40% charter expansion or through private contracts with third party operators compromises the infrastructure of the District as a whole. It does not support education for all Philadelphia children – particularly those with special needs – and can be irreversible.
The group also lists its own proposals:
Set up an emergency process with school-based parent organizations and other parent groups to assess the impact of school-based losses this year and prioritize restoring funds to school-based budgets;
The SRC must hold public hearings on school closing criteria and slow down the process for closing schools in FY2013 to avoid mistakes like Creighton (seeking an educator-led turnaround process) and Sheppard and E.M. Stanton (both wrongly targeted for closure). They must design a process that gives parents time to seek quality options and not rush a decision in the spring.
An opportunity for parents to meet with budget staff to review and offer an alternative list of cuts, such as private contracts, consulting costs, and other options.
A process to engage parents, District leaders and the City in seeking alternative funding
sources including a collective effort for additional state revenue, Payment In Lieu of Taxes
(PILOTS), and other sources of revenue.
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For years, it had beckoned: The tiny island, sitting smack dab in the middle of the Schuylkill River — just daring this reporter to get there.
What was it? More importantly, what was on it? (My best guess: treasure.) On a recent Sunday afternoon, I pulled up to the Schuylkill's western bank with the cheapo inflatable kayak I had purchased on eBay in a delirious moment — and slipped into the murky waters to find out.
The island is little more than 100 feet from the shore (fortunate, since said kayak currently leaks just a little less quickly than you can pump it back up). I aimed for the island's only notable characteristic, a set of grandiose stone steps on its northern side, leading up from the water like the stairs of an ancient temple. A few minutes later, I scrambled onto them, and discovered not gold, but goose feces. Lots and lots of goose feces.
Peter's Island, as the little mound turns out to be named (even on Google Maps), has left a surprisingly faint trail in Philly history, considering how long it's been there. Illustrations of it date back at least to the early 1800s (in them, it looks considerably less ominous than it does now). By the mid-20th century, the island had actually ceased to be an island at all, according to Adam Levine, a historical consultant for the Philadelphia Water Department who runs the website PhillyH2O.org. A mountain of sludge — the remnants, Levine says, of a century of coal mining that had washed its way to Philly — had simply extended the river's western bank all the way to the island. It remained a peninsula until some time in the 1950s, when the western channel was dredged back into existence, and the sludge pumped 11 miles southwest to create land in Eastwick, near the airport.
Aside from that, Peter's Island seems to have been relatively overlooked by mankind. Which is probably why another species went ahead and took it over.
The place is littered, it turns out, with goose nests, enough that it's hard not to step on one by accident. And doing that would be unpleasant indeed, because in the nests are goose eggs — and sitting on some of those goose eggs are geese. I discovered this by almost walking into one.
The goose didn't budge from its squat, but craned its neck menacingly. As I fumbled with a camera I was ambushed by another, non-nest-squatting goose, who'd been hiding in the brush and then came at me, hissing. I feinted sideways, not wanting to cede ground on my southward march, until another goose appeared from the opposite direction, also hissing. I retreated.
That's just as well, says Chris Crockett, Deputy Commissioner for Planning and Environmental Services at the Philadelphia Water Department, who pointed out to me over the phone that geese are federally protected animals.
Crockett first visited the island himself about 13 years ago, during a time when the little island had its last, brief fling with public attention, thanks to a goose population that had gotten, Crockett says, out of control.
"Back in the day," he says, "once you got out there you couldn't set foot on the island; before you even got onto it they started hissing and honking. And if you did get off on the island, the whole place was in an uproar! It was a very intense kind of experience."
Using Peter's Island as a base, the geese would swim to the Schuylkill's banks in Fairmount Park and gorge themselves on its grassy lawns. They destroyed vegetation, laid bare fields and, of course, pooped. A lot.
"You ever hear the term, 'Slippery as goose ... stuff'?" Crockett asks. "That [bike] trail was pretty slippery."
They still do all of these things, of course — but it was worse, Crockett says. Much worse. "Hundreds. We're talking about hundreds and hundreds of geese. Maybe 125 or more in a single parking lot," he says. "It became tons of poop per year."
Peter's Island — and the stream of goose poop that flows from it — happens to be situated a short ways upstream of the city's main water intake for the Schuylkill River. And stuff, as it were, flows downstream.
The Water Department began reviewing ways to cut down on the pollution and, in 1999, the Daily News and local TV news stations flocked to the story, helping prompt a brief goose frenzy.
"People were sending me goose recipes," Crockett recalls, laughing.
In the years since, the Water Department and the Department of Parks & Recreation have pursued a plan of goose discouragement, planting vegetation that geese don't like at the edge of the water and putting up signs to discourage people from feeding them. According to recent goose surveys the Water Department has conducted, the numbers have gone down dramatically, Crockett says.
When I described being chased by just two geese, he seemed genuinely pleased: "The numbers are down," he remarked, "and the geese still have their little island. So everybody got something they needed."
The outrage over the blight that has become of many of Kensington's vacant factories has barely subsided since two firemen died (some say unnecessarily) fighting the Thomas Buck Hosiery factory fire on April 9. But those disused hulks aren't all bad news: Leo and Amy Voloshin saw the potential in one of these high-ceilinged old brick structures and recently transformed it into Paper Box Studios, with offices for their Print Fresh fabric design company, studio spaces and, coming soon, a 35-person co-working space in the vein of Indy Hall by targeting creative professionals. (Monthly desk rentals or daily drop-ins will be available, probably starting in August.)
The 32,000-square-foot building, which was empty except for a two-man printing company, addresses, Leo Voloshin says, "a need I think exists in Philadelphia still for great artist's space or office space for creative professionals." The 25 units are about 70 percent rented already; demand is high enough that Voloshin is considering attempting another factory conversion in the near future.
Still, funding such projects remains a challenge. Voloshin was initially rejected when he approached his bank, Beneficial, for financing; the bank had just re-evaluated their risk tolerance and decided not to accept such applications. He ended up obtaining financing from the nonprofits PIDC and Finanta, rather than a standard business lender.
Voloshin's idea isn't new — Crane Arts Building and others have been drawing artists for several years now — but he thinks it's part of an ongoing reimagining of these bulky structures. "There is a growing mass of interest in doing these kinds of projects," he says.
The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, along with Mayor Nutter and Camden mayor Dana L. Redd are unveiling today a major new bike trail initiative. (Disclosure: I am a dues-paying member of the BGCP)
“The Circuit,” as the plan has been dubbed, will eventually comprise hundreds of miles of inter-connected bike trails, including several hundred miles of brand-new trails. The idea, says BCGP executive director Alex Doty, is that “wherever you live in greater Philadelphia, the Delaware Valley, Camden – is that if you walk out your door, you could look north, south, east, or west and know you can ride all day on trail.”
This vision is an extension of an idea that's at the top of the BCGP agenda: connectivity. It was the basis of the Pine and Spruce bike lanes (they connect the rivers); it's the basis of the connection between those lanes and the South Street bridge, which itself will soon connect to the Scuylkill River Trail — which itself will extend to Bartram's Garden. Connectivity, is what we're saying here.
Indeed, Doty compares this plan with the Scuylkill River Trail — which hopes to go unbroken from Center City Philadelphia to the Appalachian mountains near Pottsville. It's a project that's been years in the making, and which remains incomplete — but which draws more than a million visitors a year anyway.
The goal is a network of no less than 750 miles of bike trails. Currently, 250 miles are completed with another 50 miles in progress. That leaves 450 to go — which means this project will take a while — perhaps ten years, Doty says.
It will also require money, of which there is some and much to be raised. The William Penn Foundation has contributed substantial money toward the “Regional Trails Program,” administered by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission.
Last year, a bill to steer new bike lanes straight through City Council died out quietly, up against resistance from cycling advocates and the administration. Critics saw it as unnecessary red tape at best, a power grab at worst. But Councilman William Greenlee — who re-introduced the bill this spring and at a hearing yesterday managed to quell much of the opposition — says it’s a move toward transparency! And community input! And Council participation!
Except, all of those things kind of already exist. For four years now, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU) has been adding bike lanes by piloting them first, installing temporary lanes and then doing traffic studies, according to Andrew Stober, chief of staff at MOTU. (The office is big on piloting: everything from changing bus stops to adding pedestrian plazas to installing garbage disposals. Stober calls it a “philosophy of government” that involves responding to needs, trying things out and keeping what works.) Community meetings and discussions with district Council members are already part of the process. For lanes on 10th and 13th streets in Chinatown, MOTU went door to door, provided bilingual information and collected more than 100 letters from residents and businesspeople.
Greenlee’s bill, which has been amended to apply only to lanes that replace a lane of traffic or parking, would formalize that process, which many agree is a good idea. But Council involvement will also slow things down, Stober says. “I’m not sure that, if Council had had to preapprove the bike lanes on Spruce and Pine, if that would have gotten through. What everyone saw afterward was there weren’t significant impacts on traffic, there were a lot of cyclists using it and the chaos people thought would happen never materialized.” Accidents on Spruce and Pine declined by 44 percent.
At a Council hearing Tuesday, Greenlee expressed skepticism about previous pilots: He said he’d heard in Chinatown the lanes were a “fait accompli.” (Part of the 10th Street lane was, in fact, recently removed following its pilot run: John Chin of the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corp. said that the impact on businesses had been significant, claiming in one case that lanes had caused one shop's business to drop by 10 percent.) But Greenlee agreed to amend his bill to add an eight-month pilot process, thereby neutralizing much of the opposition on the spot. “As far as I’m concerned,” he said, “this is just being consistent” with governance of other changes to roadways.
Still, Sarah Clark Stuart, policy director at the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, has reservations. The best time to install a lane is when streets are being repaved, she says, on an (ever-lengthening) cycle of 15 or 20 years.
“The repaving process requires a lot of planning, and then contracts, then coordination with other agencies. … To overlay an ordinance on top of that process could hamper the ability of the city to include a bike lane in the repaving plan,” Stuart says. “If that opportunity is missed, you’ve lost that opportunity to paint the bike lane in for another 15 to 20 years.”
Map from Philadelinquency.com
The Philly Department of Licenses & Inspections (L&I) has been trying to crack down on blight-lords for months now, by enforcing codes such as those requiring windows and doors on all buildings, and by taking property owners to "blight court" for violations. While they're making slow progress, residents in the most troubled neighborhoods want action sooner. Now, Christopher Sawyer (yes, the bandit sign guy) is organizing a group of East Kensington residents for what he calls an "Act 90 Tour" of the neighborhood, with the goal of creating a comprehensive database of all properties with violations such as missing windows or short-dumping, and submitting an organized list of complaints to the city's 311 system. He's hoping that the survey will be a test-case, creating a methodology residents and civic associations around the city can utilize to demand action.
WHYY news director Chris Satullo dedicated his Monday morning address to Philly public schools and the dramatic “reorganization plan” put forth by the state-controlled School Reform Commission (SRC).
I'm not surprised that Satullo got this wrong. But it is striking in how many ways he managed to do so.
I'll make this brief:
We pretty much expect people from outside Philly to misspell Sansom Street, but come on! The city should totally nail this one. Write it out on your palm first if you need to. UPDATE: We hear that this isn't a city sign, but was erected by a film crew ... which has pledged to fix the spelling!
In Philly, a handful of civic leaders in every neighborhood are responsible for most of the activities and programs — stuff like organizing cleanups, hosting block parties or starting town watch efforts. The rest of us probably wouldn't even know where to start. Code for America and the City are working on a solution: Neighborhow, a Wikipedia-like, crowd-sourced guide to getting stuff done in Philly. It's in the pre-pilot phase at the moment (they're recruiting contributors) but hope to launch a limited site by the summer and build from there. It's meant to complement the app they've already created, Change by Us, to enable people to put into practice some of the ideas they submitted.
A weekly series of foul-mouthed investigations into empty lots, dead-ass proposals and other design phenomena in Philadelphia. Find more stories like this at Philaphilia.blogspot.com.
This is not even all of it. Parking is $00?
Bounded by 10th, 11th, Vine, and Wood Streets with a few extra sticking out -- This is one of those surface lots that can kill a neighborhood. Though I've talked about other lots that are conglomerations of separate surface lots, this one really takes the fucking cake. This empty hole is ELEVEN separate lots put together. That's rigoddamndiculous!
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