pilots

SLAP held a demonstration in front of College Hall advocating for Penn to pay PILOTs earlier in October.

Credit: Irina Bit-Babik

Following nearly a year of protests and discussion with the administration, activist groups on campus remain frustrated over the issue of PILOTs, or Payments in Lieu of Taxes.

Last year, the issue was highly discussed on campus after members of the Student Labor Action Project and Students Organizing for Unity and Leadership organized a protest at Penn President Amy Gutmann’s annual Christmas party, asking that the University adopt a PILOTs program wherein the university would pay $6.6 million in aid to Philadelphia public schools, since it is exempt from property taxes as a nonprofit. But even though the issue has died down on campus, SLAP is still fighting for the cause.

The most recent protest promoting PILOTs was held by SLAP on Oct. 12. The group made signs with names and photos of Philadelphia schools that would benefit from the proposed program and stood on the steps of College Hall and Van Pelt Library. In March, SLAP member and College junior Devan Spear addressed Philadelphia City Hall about the proposal, and Democratic mayoral candidate Jim Kenney has publicly supported the push for PILOTs.

In December, protesters came out strongly against Penn’s policy of not paying PILOTs.

“Selective disinvestment in black and brown communities is racism,” SOUL member and College senior Gina Dukes said in remarks addressed to Gutmann during the protest in 2014. “Every day that Penn lobbies against PILOTs, it writes a new page in this country’s legacy of racial justice.”

While the protest and the several that followed generated significant buzz on campus at the time, the University has yet to act towards the positive adoption of PILOTs. Currently, Penn and Columbia are the only two Ivy League schools that do not participate in the PILOTs program, but Penn contends its involvement in the Penn Alexander School is significant outreach.

“PILOTs would actually require a comparably tiny amount of Penn’s money,” Spear said. “The University’s Consolidated Operating Budget for 2015 was $7.1 billion ... PILOTs would be somewhere around 0.1 percent of that.”

Spear believes that while Penn’s participation in the PILOTs program alone is not enough to fix the issues within the Philadelphia public school system, Penn’s decision to participate would have a domino effect on the other nonprofit institutions in the region.

“We believe that Penn has the potential to be a leader in jump-starting the PILOTs program.” Spear said. “If all of Philadelphia’s biggest nonprofit institutions contributed to the PILOTs program, the School District of Philadelphia would have a significant boost in funding.”

While continued activism is a part of SLAP’s plan to get Penn to adopt PILOTs, it is not the only method they are pursuing.

“Continued activism is only one part of the campaign for PILOTs, which in turn is only one part of the fight for fair funding for Philadelphia’s public schools,” Spear said.

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