My name is Kristin Luebbert, and I am a teacher in Philadelphia. When we talk about these huge numbers it all seems very ephemeral—what does it really mean to say that twenty buildings keep almost $15 million in revenue away from the Philadelphia schools that desperately need it? Or that the 20 buildings with the largest 10-year tax abatements are cumulatively valued at more than $2.2 billion? Or that 10 Rittenhouse Square gets an abatement for most of its value, which costs the schools over $1 million annually? What does it mean to say that these losses in revenue could fund 446 Counselors for our schools?
I can tell you what it would mean to two of my students, right now, this week!
The first student I worry about (one of the many actually) is a middle school boy who is new to our school this year. Because of that, I do not know his family or his circumstances. He is a quiet boy, a boy who does his work and mostly stays out of trouble. A boy who eagerly asks to borrow books from the class library. But, I worry because I notice that he is just a little too sleepy, a little too hungry, a little too skinny, and not very healthy looking. What is wrong? I don’t know. In past years—when I got done with my day of teaching 80 plus students—I could email the counselor and let her know my concerns. She would have investigated, set up a meeting, and let us know what was up with this child. Now….our school has an itinerant counselor who is doing her best to keep up, but she has a caseload of over 3000 students, and I have to wonder why the owner/developer of this building is considered more deserving of a break than a 12 year old boy who clearly needs help?
My second concern is a young man who is literally screaming for help—in that loud, obnoxious way that 8th grade boys are so good at when they are in distress. He is living in circumstances that no one his age (or anyone for that matter) should have to—despite this, he manages to get himself up and come to school every day. BUT, he is flailing and failing—we are desperately afraid that we are going to lose him in one way or another. Everyone at our school is working hard to get him help, but without a full-time counselor it is a slow, piecemeal effort that is taking longer than it should. I have to wonder why a young man who lives in dire conditions is less important or less deserving than people who just want a tax break on their expensive properties?
These are just two stories from one floor, of one school, in one neighborhood of Philadelphia—the extraordinary thing is that these stories are not extraordinary—there are dozens of them in my building and thousands of them in the schools of this city.
Our students need and deserve for the people who can afford it to pay their fair share of taxes.