COUNCILMEMBER HELEN GYM CALLS FOR A PLAN TO FUND COMPREHENSIVE REMEDIATION AND MODERNIZATION OF PHILADELPHIA’S SCHOOL BUILDINGS

In Council News, Helen Gym, News by PHL Council

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Gym’s hearing will develop a plan to fund a 21st Century school system for students.  

PHILADELPHIA — Today Councilmember Helen Gym (At-Large) introduced a resolution to hold hearings on a funding plan for a comprehensive remediation and modernization of Philadelphia’s public school buildings.

“The start of the school year should be a time of excitement for Philadelphia students, families and staff,” said Councilmember Gym, Chair of the Committee on Children and Youth. “Instead, too many have returned to toxic school buildings that are in disrepair during a pandemic. As a City, we have an obligation to address the facilities crisis for once and for all.”

“We are no longer ringing the bell, we are now ringing the alarm. When schools closed in March, 2020 school district leaders had ample opportunity and time to create an oasis for our children. They did not. Our children returned to the same unhealthy and toxic schools that they left. We are done waiting. This fall, we are holding every leader in Philadelphia accountable for safe and equitable schools. There is no excuse not to provide 21st Century school buildings for all of our children deserve,” said Shakeda Gaines, President of Philadelphia Home and School Council.

While the District has invested significant funds in facilities in recent years, current efforts are not keeping pace with needs. Recent infusions of federal funding provide a once-in-a-generation opportunity to remake our schools while creating thousands of high-quality, union jobs, improving health outcomes, reducing carbon emissions, and increasing the resilience of school buildings to extreme weather. The American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act is providing over $1.1 billion in funding to the District for COVID-19 relief; ARP funds given to the state, combined with surplus revenues from last year, amount to approximately $5 billion in unspent funds, which can be used for infrastructure investments such as modernizing schools’ heating, ventilation, and cooling systems.

In 2020, Governor Wolf proposed more than $1 billion in state funding to address asbestos and lead in school buildings and has repeatedly advocated about the need to end lead exposure across the state. Potential federal infrastructure investments could provide additional funds for improvements such as electrical grid upgrades necessary to install air conditioning, and a Green

New Deal for Schools proposal has called for a $1.4 trillion investment in healthy green retrofits for school buildings.

“Improving our schools is a racial justice issue, an environmental justice issue and a moral issue,” said Robert Collier Sr., Black Clergy of Philadelphia & Vicinity President. “We are demanding that our elected officials cut through the gridlock and deliver for the children of this city. We owe our children nothing less than a quality educational environment.”

“It is imperative that we do all that we can right now to correct the gross physical neglect of our schools that occurred in the past in order to ensure a bright and productive future for our children,” said Rev. Maxcine Collier, Black Clergy Education Committee Chairperson. “Our children must have a safe physical environment in all schools in order to grow intellectually, emotionally and morally.”

“For too long we have sent Philadelphia’s children into aging buildings that put their health and success at risk. Public school families and school staff deserve answers. The City of Philadelphia must follow the path of other cities that have pursued ambitious plans to overhaul their public school buildings,” said Councilmember Gym.

“The facilities crisis in our schools is a moral failure, and one with catastrophic consequences, said Jerry T. Jordan, President of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. “The resolution introduced by Councilmember Gym today reflects the decades of systemic disinvestment in our school communities. Councilmember Gym has stood shoulder to shoulder with educators, students, and parents as we have galvanized a movement that not only defines this crisis but also offers real solutions. It is no accident that in a school district that educates primarily Black and brown youth, access to healthy school buildings is seen as negotiable. Buildings free from lead, asbestos, and mold are seen by too many in power as ‘nice to have.’

“Let’s be very clear: these are conditions that would never be tolerated in a wealthier, whiter school district,” President Jordan continued. “This is deeply shameful. And it’s exactly why, along with Councilmember Gym, the PFT founded the Fund Our Facilities Coalition, to demand urgently needed investment in our school buildings. We have defined the problem. We have identified solutions. I look forward to participating in the upcoming hearings as we continue to move forward a true investment agenda for our schools.”

“It’s very disheartening that time and again, we find ourselves back at square one with the less-than-minimal transparency and lack of urgency in meeting even the basic standards and needs for our aging school buildings. I commend my colleague, Councilmember Gym, for her unwavering advocacy on behalf of our students. I look forward to holding these joint hearings that I believe will be critical in helping the City make viable, sustainable changes within our school facilities that current and future Philadelphia public school students will benefit from,” said Councilmember Derek Green (At-Large).

Hearings will be held this fall in a joint committee of Children and Youth and Finance. The resolution is co-sponsored by Derek Green (At-Large), co chair of Council’s Finance Committee; Cindy Bass (District 8), Kendra Brooks (At-Large), Allan Domb (At-Large), Jamie Gauthier (District 3), Katherine Gilmore-Richardson (At-Large), Bobby Henon (District 6), Kenyatta Johnson (District 3), Mark Squilla (District 1), and Isaiah Thomas (At-Large)

Read the resolution: CM Gym – Resolution – School Facilities

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