Philly councilman wants to give school district $10M to address lead, asbestos in classrooms

By: - September 13, 2019 6:30 am

By Michael D’Onofrio

The asbestos, lead and other environmental issues plaguing Philadelphia’s aging school buildings have become so significant that a Philadelphia City Councilman wants to dedicate millions more of city dollars address them.

At-large City Councilman Derek Green, a Democrat, introduced an ordinance in City Council on Thursday that aims to dip into the city’s fund balance, or surplus, to provide $10 million for immediate remediation in schools.

“This gives an opportunity to show the city of Philadelphia has some skin in the game and is trying to address this issue,” Green said on Thursday outside the City Council Chambers in City Hall.

The legislation, which now heads to a committee hearing that has yet to be scheduled, would be a one-time transfer. If passed, the funding would supplement the $222.4 million the city will shell out to the district this year.

The current budget was expected to have $209 million in unspent dollars at the end of the fiscal year in June 2020. In the 2019 fiscal year that ended in June, the city had an estimated $297 million fund balance, which followed had a $368 million surplus in 2018.

The proposal of the bill comes on the heels of the revelation that a long-time Philadelphia school teacher was diagnosed with a form of cancer linked to asbestos.

Mayor Jim Kenney’s Office and the school district did not immediately return requests seeking comment.

School district spokeswoman Megan Lello said in an email that the district welcomes “any resources that can be identified to help with our well-documented facilities needs.”

Leaders of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers thanked Green in a statement emailed Thursday afternoon, and praised him and the other councilmembers in the Fund Our Facilities Coalition.

“To perform critically needed lead and asbestos abatement, our school district needs $100 million immediately. We are hopeful that City Council will promptly pass this legislation, and that it will spur similar proactivity from the General Assembly, local businesses and any others who want to make our schools clean, healthy and safe for schoolchildren,” PFT leaders said in the statement.

The district dumped $24 million — of which the state kicked in $4.7 million — into remediating lead paint, asbestos and mold in 18 schools this summer, and modernizing 132 classrooms in 12 schools, among other things.

But the district, where the average age of Philadelphia school buildings is more than 70 years old, has a nearly $5 billion maintenance backlog.

On Wednesday, members of the Fund Our Facilities Coalition, which includes Green, state and city leaders, and the teachers union, called for an immediate investment of $100 million to remediate lead and asbestos in city schools.

The coalition estimated it would cost the district $170 million this year to tackle lead paint and asbestos remediation, resolve rodent issues and repair roofs in the district, among other things.

Michael D’Onofrio is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.

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