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The Student Labor Action Project leads the push for Penn to pay PILOTs.

Credit: Yolanda Chen

Like many Penn students, I was not surprised to read in the Oct. 12 edition of The Daily Pennsylvanian that President Gutmann’s salary has risen yet again, this time to an astounding $3,426,106. Since my freshman year at Penn, I have been familiar with our president’s status as one of the most highly compensated university presidents in the country. What continues to shock me, however, is that Gutmann’s salary continues to rise while Philadelphia’s students struggle. In spite of the current public school crisis plaguing the city of Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania still refuses to pay Payments in Lieu of Taxes to help support the city’s public school system. Penn’s Student Labor Action Project has staged multiple protests highlighting this extreme inequality, including one on Oct. 12. Although Gutmann agreed to have a meeting with us last year, she ultimately sent other administrators in her place.

The combination of Penn’s status as a tax-exempt nonprofit, as well as the largest private real estate holder in the city means that Philadelphia faces a huge budget dilemma from the high concentration of untaxed property. In fact, Philadelphia has the highest percentage of tax-exempt nonprofit property in the country. Of course Penn has a huge economic impact as the city’s largest employer; however, we believe that this does not serve as an adequate answer to Philadelphia’s perilous education deficit. As of last year, Penn held approximately $2.5 billion in land and improvements, but paid property taxes on only about 9 percent of that total. At Philadelphia’s property tax rate of 1.34 percent, Penn was paying around $3.1 million a year in property taxes. However, without the charitable exemption from property taxes, Penn would have paid closer to $33 million if it weren’t designated a nonprofit. Of this $33 million, over $18 million would have gone directly to the school district every year.

The Student Labor Action Project at Penn is committed to pressuring the administration to pay PILOTs and support local communities and education within Philadelphia. We demand that Penn contribute at least $6.6 million in PILOTs to support Philadelphia public schools. To ignore the consequences of not doing so is directly in conflict with the University’s commitment to education and civic engagement in the community. As Penn students, we are lucky to go to a school that provides us with rich resources for learning and personal growth. However, in many parts of Philadelphia, public schools students are denied that opportunity.

Of course, Penn is not responsible for the creation of the school budget deficit in Philadelphia and Penn’s programs and efforts with respect with community engagement are laudable. The Penn Alexander School is a wonderful example of the kind of impact Penn can have in creating a public school that is properly funded and serves its students. However, Penn Alexander is only one school and other Penn partnership schools are more accustomed to a revolving door of Penn initiatives and tutors. Penn students and initiatives cannot serve as proper substitutes for the kind of full time staff and teaching that a properly funded school district budget would be able to secure.

It has been almost a year since we first made this request. Since then, despite a resolution from city council endorsing PILOTs and a promise from former City Councilmember Jim Kenney to pursue them, President Gutmann’s answer has still been no. This is about more than just a monetary contribution. This is about demanding that Penn invest in the structural stability of an education system that is needed so badly by Philadelphia’s poor students, working-class students and students of color. This is not charity; it is the beginning of collective reinvestment in students who have been abandoned by so many. Gutmann receives such high compensation, in part, because she upholds Penn’s reputation as the “civic ivy” and we are proud to have a university president that values civic responsibility. It is time for Penn, and President Gutmann, to live up to that reputation.

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