Penn students are pushing the university to play its part in alleviating the Philadelphia school system’s current budget crisis.
On Wednesday afternoon, members and supporters of the Student Labor Action Project gathered at College Hall to formally ask President Gutmann to give 0.1 percent of Penn’s annual budget to the City of Philadelphia public school system, an amount totaling $6.6 million .
This request marked the first public event of SLAP’s newest campaign, which is part of a nationwide program, Payments in Lieu of Taxes . Institutions that join the PILOT program assist local governments by making voluntary payments in place of taxes from which they are exempt due to their nonprofit status.
Currently, Penn and Columbia are the only Ivy League universities that do not participate in the program . Previously, Penn has lobbied against the adoption of PILOT.
SLAP’s campaign comes at a time of increasingly dire financial struggles for Philadelphia’s schools, as well as a period of marked prosperity for Penn.
“We think it’s wrong that we have so many resources for Philadelphia, while so much of Philadelphia is being policed, not educated,” College senior and SLAP member Brendan Van Gorder said in an interview after the event.
Additionally, Van Gorder emphasized that despite Penn’s large charitable role in the community, SLAP aims to address injustices that it believes Penn currently perpetuates but has the ability to correct.
College sophomore and SLAP member Devan Spear discussed the potential impact that Penn students can have, as well as Penn’s responsibility to the wider community. “With Penn’s support, PILOT will have a lot more power,” she said after the event.
Although Gutmann was out of her office when SLAP members arrived, the organization’s formal letter to the president requests a meeting during the first two weeks of the spring semester. If administration is not receptive to the campaign, SLAP plans to increase pressure and public action.
College senior and SLAP member Daniel Cooper Bermudez said that Penn has a “big role” to play in the campaign. He encouraged students interested in involvement to spread awareness through conversations with friends and social media and to attend future SLAP events.
Cooper Bermudez also highlighted the relevance of SLAP’s campaign in light of racial controversy stemming from nationwide Ferguson protests. Many of the students affected by the Philadelphia budget crisis are from black communities.
“Penn’s active lobbying against paying PILOTs is a direct form of lobbying for the disinvestment of those communities,” Bermudez said.
Regardless of Gutmann’s decision, SLAP will continue to work to increase awareness of these issues on campus.
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