More than 50 students, teachers, and community members protested in the rain against Penn’s tax-exempt status as a nonprofit and called on the University to provide voluntary funds to the city of Philadelphia, which can potentially be put toward local schools.
Though Penn is a nonprofit institution, attendees said the University owes the city money for its schools and advocated for Penn to pay PILOTs, Payments in Lieu of Taxes, which can be given to cities for public services. The student group Penn Student Power organized the March 21 protest on College Green, with nonprofit groups Our City Our Schools and Philadelphia Jobs with Justice.
Attendees listened to public school teachers, community leaders, and Penn students who argued that Penn is neglecting their community by refusing to contribute finances to local schools.
“We think it’s unfair that Penn as a nonprofit is deciding to not pay property tax when it owns so much land in Philadelphia and is the largest property owner across Philly,” Penn Student Power member and College senior Aiden Castellanos said. “So why isn’t Penn paying up?”
Devan Spear, executive director of Philadelphia Jobs for Justice, said PILOT programs are common for universities to participate in, and that Penn is a minority in the Ivy League for not participating.
“All of the Ivy Leagues except Penn and Columbia actually participate in PILOT programs in their respective municipalities," Spear said. “We’re not asking them to carry the entire burden of the school district, we’re asking them to step up and pay their fair share.”
College freshman Dallas Ryan, who grew up fifteen minutes away in West Philadelphia, also advocated for Penn to contribute to PILOTs.
"All the programs that Penn has with West Philadelphia, they’re mostly student-run," Ryan said. "They’re mostly student-initiated because the students feel like they have to give back to this city more so than Penn thinks they should."
Protestors also focused on the deteriorating condition of public schools in Philadelphia.
Teachers like Louis Fantini, a 2016 Graduate School of Education graduate, talked about the "toxic" conditions of their school buildings. Fantini spoke about the Franklin Learning Center in North Philadelphia where he teaches history and literature to high school students.
“There’s not a room in my building that doesn’t have flaking lead paint,” Fantini said. “We see it every day, it’s a fact of working there, and too many of us have accepted it as part of the job. What we’re looking at is a huge systemic problem that isn’t just local to Philadelphia.”
He added that he believes Penn has the financial resources and ability to help students in Philadelphia.
"You don’t need to talk to me about it, you can talk to Penn about it," Fantini said. "Their values that they profess include contributing to the community, they preach inclusion, innovation, and impact, and if you want to be inclusive to our city community you need to kick in just like every Philadelphian kicks in."