Parents United wins millions from Parking Authority schools campaign

PHOTO: SPECIAL FOR THE PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS-Protesters hold signs as PPA officials answer questions from the State House Appropriations Committee at the state capitol in Harrisburg Pa. Wednesday November 14, 2007.

In August 2007, Parents United for Public Education sent a letter to the Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA) asking the Parking Authority to abide by its 2004 promise to deliver millions of dollars a year to the public schools. The letter launched our historic and successful campaign into the agency’s use of public dollars and its failure to live up to its school funding promise.

In the months following, Parents United for Public Education led a public campaign to pressure the PPA to deliver its funds, addressing the agency’s board at its monthly meetings, organizing actions, and speaking with city and state officials about our concerns. Public school parents like Steve Bell at J.S. Jenks Elementary and Mary Jo Kannon, a parent at McCall and Meredith Elementary Schools, analyzed years of Parking Authority audits. They flagged the agency’s unusually high (and unaudited) cash reserve fund and noted other irregularities in the audits. In addition, both local Philadelphia papers conducted in-depth investigations into the Parking Authority’s finances. They reported on the fact that although revenues had doubled, profits were eaten up by the agency’s ballooning personnel and expenses including free cars, parking and six figure salaries for top executives.

In December 2007, Mayor-elect Michael Nutter and State Rep. Dwight Evans announced a settlement with the Parking Authority that would deliver more than $6 million to the public schools over three years, as well as fulfill the Parking Authority’s obligation to fund the city budget for $25 million. The money they used relied primarily on the research Parents United had delivered to the City regarding its reserve fund. It would be the first time since 2004 that the PPA had fulfilled its promise.
In the FY2012 budget, the Philadelphia Parking Authority delivered $14 million to support the Philadelphia public schools. 

December 20, 2007

Press release: Parents win Parking Authority $$ for schools 

How do you get from here: 

  • “We can’t do anything today.” – PPA Board Chair Joe Ashdale, October 23. 

To here? 

  • “I see it [the Parking Authority’s money for City/schools] continuing to go up under the Nutter administration, and you can quote me on that in big, bold letters.” – PPA Executive Director Vince Fenerty, December 17, after announcing the Parking Authority will give $1.25 million to the schools for the first time in years. 

Well, it came from parents. Public school parents who decided this past summer to make this a campaign, not only to get money for our City and Schools but to put public education and the needs of our schools in the lap of every single agency and civic and political official in the City. In the meantime, state reps, Harrisburg and the Governor took notice.

The people who did this, for the most part, weren’t paid; in fact most of us paid to do it. We hired babysitters, took off of work, ran around on public transportation, and, of course, paid plenty of parking fees. We spoke with passion about the needs of our schools, about our libraries and vocational schools, about class sizes and public decency. We wrote letters to the editor, contacted our state reps and council people, and even crashed a Harrisburg Appropriations Committee meeting.

It didn’t hurt to have parents with financial experience like Steve Bell and Mary Jo Kannon who noticed the PPA’s hoarding of $46 million in cash reserves. They spent hours reviewing and analyzing years of Parking Authority audits that had been largely overlooked by the City Controller and the School District. It was important to have an engaged media investigating every angle of the Parking Authority’s political and financial connections. 

We had allies in the struggle. JUNTOS, TaxiWorkers Alliance and the Media Mobilizing Project supported our calls for transparency and accountability. Advocate groups and education groups signed letters of appeal and joined us at midday PPA board meetings.

It was easy to see the news and think that getting from here to there was the work of a few power brokers, but it was a far cry from that. This was, and should be celebrated as a people’s movement and the rising of parents and citizens who, despite the difficulties of our public schools, still believe in and demand a quality education for all children.

So on behalf of Parents United for Public Education, thank you for your support in this struggle, for your participation, and for your phone calls, letters, attendance and passion. Let’s be encouraged that change doesn’t always come from the top down. Sometimes the most powerful and meaningful change is from the bottom up.

We leave you with a few memorable quotes, and words from the Governor this week as he signed off on the red light camera bill:

  • “When are the children of Philadelphia going to stop being taken for granted? We are only asking for what is rightfully theirs.” – Greg Wade, Philadelphia Home and School Council, October 22.
  • “The city’s elected leaders, especially our state representatives, need to stand with the parents and school children and oversee wasteful spending at the Parking Authority.” – Anne LaBrum, Meredith parent, Daily News letter, November 2.
  • “If it weren’t criminal, it’d be comical,” – Rev. Paul Weeks, JS Jenks School, in a meeting with the Inquirer editorial board, November 2007.
  • “It’s a beautiful patronage haven. It’s wonderful to be able to pay your friends…and punish your enemies. But I come to speak for the least of us – our children.” – Rev. Leroi Simmons, Germantown Clergy Initiative, November 26.
  • “If you don’t want to work with us, we’re going to keep working on you.” – Gerald Wright, JS Jenks parent, November 26.
  • “It’s a reason why people – not only in Philadelphia but in many other parts – are just sick and tired of the state taking our schools and not taking responsibility for them, and taking over an entity like the Parking Authority and just letting it run amok with waste and patronage and greed.” – Helen Gym, Masterman parent, December 12.
  • “We’ll take this victory, but we want to be here for the check-signing to make sure it really happens. And we’ll never stop fighting for our children.” – Aissia Richardson, GAMP parent, December 17 following the announcement of a victory.

Earlier this month, many of us cried foul when a last minute ambush spoiled an effort by Rep. Dwight Evans to use the red light camera bill to fund Philadelphia public schools. Governor Rendell used the bill signing to speak out on behalf of funding needs for the Philly schools. Read more here.

December 10, 2007

The Parking Authority Grinch: A Fable?

Parents United is set to give the Philadelphia Parking Authority its first ever Grinch award as the meanest and least generous agency in the city. Here’s our tale:

The Parking Authority Grinch: A Fable
(with apologies to Dr. Seuss)

Every Who
Down in Who-ville
Liked decent schools a lot . . .

But the PPA,
Which wanted a fleet of SUVs for itself,
Did NOT!

The PPA hated public scrutiny! The whole budget perusin’!
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
It could be that its salaries and pensions had taken a good bite.
It could be, perhaps, that its payroll was outta sight.
But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been that its sense of shame was two sizes too small.

Whatever the reason,
The PPA, after all, looked like fools,
Sat there at public meetings, ignoring the schools.
It stared down from its patronage seat, with a sour, Grinchy frown
At the earnest parents and families who represented the town.
For the PPA knew every child in the schools below
Deserved far more than it was willing to show.

“And they’re asking for books!” the PPA snarled with a sneer.
“A lower class size, music every year!”
Then it growled, with its grinch fingers nervously drumming,
“I MUST find a way to keep our cash flow from running!”
For, tomorrow, the PPA knew . . .

. . . All the Who girls and boys
Would wake up bright and early. They’d protest with voice!
And then! Oh, the noise! Oh, the noise! Noise! Noise! Noise!
That’s one thing it hated! A grassroots NOISE! NOISE! NOISE!

They’d do something the PPA liked least of all!
Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small,
Would stand close together, joined hand-in-hand
And demand justice for kids as the law of the land.

And the more the PPA thought of the Who-Justice-thing
The more the PPA thought, “I must avoid this whole thing!
“Why for six years I’ve gotten away with it now!
I MUST stop this public scrutiny . . .
But HOW?”

Then it got an idea!
An awful idea!

“I know just what to do!” the PPA laughed in its throat.
And doubled up the payroll with barely a note.
With seven layers of management and six-figure salaries,
A $25 holiday party for the working employees,
$46 million in cash in the bank,
Ensured that the on-street revenues would tank.
And the PPA chuckled, and clucked, “What a great Grinchy trick!
“With political friends, this should work right quick!”

“Pooh-pooh to the Whos!” the PPA was grinch-ish-ly humming.
“They’re finding out now that no funding for schools is coming!
“They’re just waking up! I know just what they’ll do!
“All the Whos down in Who-ville will all cry BOO-HOO!”

“That’s a noise,” grinned the PPA,
“That I simply must hear!”
So it put a hand to its ear.
And the PPA did hear a sound rising over the snow.
It started in low. Then it started to grow . . .
But the sound wasn’t sad!
Why, this sound sounded angry!
It couldn’t be so!
But it WAS angry! VERY!

Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small,
Was standing behind their kids with a unified call!
The PPA HADN’T stopped justice from coming!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!

And the PPA, with its grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so?
It came without political pull! It came without power!
“It came despite media attention that grew every hour!”
And it puzzled for weeks `till its puzzler was sore.
Then the PPA thought of something it hadn’t before!
“Maybe public decency,” it thought, “really does have a floor.
“Maybe funding our schools, perhaps, can’t wait any more.”

And what happened then . . . ?
Well, in Who-ville they say,
That the PPA’s padded payroll
Got a little smaller that day.
And the minute its heart didn’t feel quite so tight,
And the minute that the patronage load felt quite a bit light
It whizzed in with a cash dividend for the kids
To pay for the teachers to help them pass their next quiz
To pay for an art program that didn’t used to be
And help reduce a class size that was stuck at 33.

But this holiday season is no time for a fable
Not when the PPA refuses us a place at the table.
Call our state legislators and tell them what’s right.
Tell the PPA their reputation’s a fright!
Join the call for our schools —
The time is now.
Don’t wait for a story.
Let’s show them how.

November 30, 2007

UpdateMore dollars for the public schools are critical if we’re going to demand change. Since September, Parents United has called upon the Parking Authority to fulfill a $20 million commitment to the schools. The campaign has received tremendous publicity, and the attention of the Governor and Mayor-Elect, but so far no cash. There is a proposal to divert about a million new dollars from a red light camera bill to schools, but that bill is currently stalled in the House. Parents are currently going through PPA audits to search for what we believe could be a “special dividend” to the schools.

TAKE ACTION! Five minutes of your time can make a difference. Letters and phone calls to Rep. John Perzel (215-725-2100) and Dwight Evans (215-549-0220), both of whom orchestrated the state takeover of the Parking Authority by promising a steady funding stream to the public schools. Letters to the editor also help:

Save the Date

  • Philadelphia Parking Authority: Grinch or Santa? December 17, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m., 3101 Market Street: The last Parking Authority board action. Join us as we give the Parking Authority an award for Grinch of the Year or celebrate a school funding victory.

November 21, 2007

Parents demand call for Parking Authority to fund schools

“A billion a year short means everyone steps up”

  • Parking Authority monthly board meeting
  • DATE: Monday, November 26th
  • TIME: Press conference (PFT confirmed): 11 a.m.; board meeting 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.
  • WHERE: PPA headquarters, 3101 Market Street

Dozens of parents and citizens are expected to pack the Parking Authority’s monthly board meeting on Monday questioning why the Authority has still not been able to deliver funds to the schools.

“This was a commitment that was supposed to have been fulfilled every single year since 2004,” said Gerald Wright, a member of the Leadership Collective of Parents United for Public Education.

Parents and citizens are expected to discuss the significance of the Parking Authority funds in light of the recently released legislative study on the state of public education funding in the Commonwealth. That study found that 95% of all districts are underfunded, and Philadelphia is underfunded by a billion dollars a year.

Parents point out that recent news reports have shown that the Parking Authority clearly has the money, but has spent it internally rather than prioritizing the city and schools.

They also said they expected to see their political leaders step up and address the underfunding issue clearly and firmly.

“We’re not going to get to that number unless every single agency steps up,” said Aissia Richardson, a parent at Girard Academic Music Program. “This is not about beating up on the Parking Authority. It’s about understanding that our schools are a critical issue and one which everyone has a moral and civic obligation to fund.”

November 14, 2007

Parents United alert!

Parents to Parking Authority: YOUR METER’S EXPIRED – FUND OUR SCHOOLS!

  • What: Philadelphia Parking Authority monthly board meeting
  • When: Monday, Nov. 26th (after Thanksgiving weekend), 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.
  • Where: 3101 Market Street

Your participation has never been more crucial! Read below for information on other important dates and events.

Two reasons to get on the bus

  • Support a better education funding system: Today, Wed., Nov. 14, at 10:30 a.m. Good Schools PA is sponsoring a free bus trip to Harrisburg to support the release of a new study which supports a new and more equitable funding formula for public education. Good Schools PA already has two buses headed to Harrisburg to show Philly’s support for this new formula. Buses leave from Broad & Spring Garden at 10:30 a.m. and return around 6 p.m. Parents United has reserved 5 seats on the bus. If you’re interested and available contact Justin at (267) 258-2158 this morning!
  • Watch the Parking Authority: Rep. Dwight Evans has called a surprise hearing at 2 p.m. in Harrisburg on the Parking Authority. It’s not clear what the hearing is about but some guess it is a way to boost the Parking Authority’s image and push forward a bill to reauthorize the red light cameras. Parents United, Philadelphia Home & School Council and the Taxi Workers Alliance signed an open letter to the House Appropriations Committee asking for serious inquiry, calling for public testimony (there is none), and requesting that no new legislation passes without significant changes in oversight and management of the PPA.

October 31, 2007

Press releaseParents call Parking Authority’s recent comments “shameful” and “evasive” 

Parents United for Public Education said the Philadelphia Parking Authority was acting in a “shameful” and “evasive” manner in its recent trip to Harrisburg.

The Philadelphia Daily News reported this week that Parking Authority officials were handing out “fact sheets” showing the number of School District employees earning more than $100,000.  The number was in reference to recent media investigations showing a skyrocketing payroll at the Parking Authority, which has doubled its jobs and pays at least 20 employees more than $100,000.

Parents United, along with other parent groups, has been leading a call for the Parking Authority to keep its 2004 promise to turn over $20 million to the public schools. Since a first check for $4 million was handed over in 2004, the Parking Authority hasn’t sent a dollar to the public schools.

Parents United has called on the Parking Authority to make its November 26th board meeting a check signing ceremony for the district, to announce a plan to turn over the rest of the $20 million owed to the schools, and to work with parents to determine a plan for future disbursement of dollars to the public schools. The group is demanding that the District also work with parents to prioritize funding for schools into the classroom.

“It’s shameful,” said Aissia Richardson, a member of Parents United. “Instead of saying that they can work this out and figure out a solution, they’re trying to avoid the issue. They need to take responsibility for what they said they would do, not play an evasive political game.”

Helen Gym, a member of Parents United, said that parent groups are working for accountability in the School District, pointing out that there is oversight from the School Reform Commission, the City Controllers Office, the State Budget Secretary, and independent parent groups.

“People are combing through the District’s books, but at some level it’s ridiculous and wrong for the Parking Authority to suggest that there’s all this fat in our schools,” Gym said. “We’ve got the highest class sizes in the Commonwealth, we’ve seen hundreds of teachers cut, no art and music, and the Parking Authority’s sitting there counting the ways they can add more jobs to their payroll instead of making good on their promise to kids.”

“We’re tired of excuses and blame,” Gym said. “We’re waiting for someone to say we can make this work.”

Richardson also said the Parking Authority’s attempts to decry salaries, which included all principals salaries, ignored long-standing concerns about retention of quality teachers and educators.

“We’re losing personnel from our schools to higher paying suburbs just a few miles away,” Richardson said. “It just goes to show you how totally clueless they are about the issues and struggles facing our schools.”

At a Tuesday night voter forum at the African American United Fund (which was co-sponsored by Parents United for Public Education), mayoral hopeful Al Taubenberger, who is a Parking Authority board member, was asked to respond why the Parking Authority wasn’t turning over its promised dollars to the public schools. In a terse voice, Taubenberger said that the current Mayor and Governor had put a law into place blocking the Parking Authority from giving 100 percent of its money to the public schools, as it had originally desired.

But when questioned why his board pays its executive director more than the governor, Taubenberger responded that his board wasn’t unusual. A number of boards, like Philadelphia Gas Works, pay their top executives far more than the governor.

“That doesn’t make it right,” one audience member muttered.

“It was a very unsatisfactory answer from someone who wants to run our city and take charge of our schools,” said Gym, who attended the forum. “If you can’t run the Parking Authority right, then what makes us think you can run the city properly?” 

September 18, 2007

Parents to Parking Authority: Keep your promise to our schools

On September 18, the Philadelphia Daily News and Metro Philadelphia noted that the Philadelphia Parking Authority had reached an agreement to sell a property at 20th & Sansom Streets for approximately $36.7 million. The Parking Authority has made a commitment to deliver $20 million to the Philadelphia public schools over a five year period since 2005. Their contribution to date? 


Parents United for Public Education today issued a call for the Philadelphia Parking Authority to use proceeds from its sale of the Sansom Street property to fulfill its commitment to the public schools. In a letter issued today to PPA Executive Director Vincent Fenerty, Parents United urged PPA to address immediate financial needs in the District, saying it must fulfill “a long overdue promise” to the schoolchildren of the city. 

In 2005 the Philadelphia Parking Authority made a publicly stated commitment to give $20 million to the Philadelphia public schools over five years. Since 2004, however, PPA has not given a single dollar to the schools. 

“All we expect is that the Parking Authority will simply do what it said publicly it was going to do,” said Gerald Wright of Parents United for Public Education and a parent at J.S. Jenks Elementary School. “To date, it hasn’t, but now, we don’t see how they can say they don’t have the money.” 

Parents United calls for the Parking Authority to not just allot funds for this year but to make up for the past three years when it did not contribute any funds to the schools. 

“That would make it even in our book,” Wright said. “Not generous, but even.” 

Parents point out that even a standard allotment of funds would stop an anticipated loss of 30 teachers expected this month. Press reports have documented dramatic overcrowding at some schools, while numerous other schools report a lack of supplies and funds for art and music programs, librarians, classroom assistants, NTA’s and other support personnel. 

“The situation is urgent,” said Aissia Richardson, a parent at Girard Academic Music Program. “PPA has a responsibility more than ever at this time to address the fiscal needs of this District.” 

We will need to follow up with members of City Council and, ideally, State Sen. Vince Fumo as well as State Sen. John Perzel. Parents United will be contacting legislators for meetings to address this situation. If you are interested or have contacts with local politicians, we could use your help. Please contact Aissia Richardson at 215-236-2100 to let us know. 

Read the full text of Parents United’s letter to the Parking Authority here. (PDF)

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