The school district’s mayoral forum on March 21st started with candidates sharing their school experiences and closed with candidate Reverend Warren Bloom telling us to pray for the city. The forum, held inside the Parkway branch of the Free Library, featured eight mayoral candidates as they discussed their plans for the future of Philly schools.
In the 2020 elections, 48% of youth ages 18-19 voted in Pennsylvania, this means that more and more youth are utilizing their ability to vote for candidates; building the future they want. In Philadelphia, the future of schools is important. Recent students have seen a decline in building maintenance and several asbestos emergencies.
This forum allowed youth and first-time voters to understand the candidates' plans for the schools they attend. The school board has acknowledged the failures of the school district under the current mayor's administration and before the forum, they released a list of asks that they want the next mayor to prioritize.
The four asks were: Increase funding for the district, upgrade school buildings, address gun violence, and offer incentives to better staff schools. These priorities are what led the discussion for the almost three hour forum.
The event boasted a large turn-out, with eight out of the 13 candidates attending, and a packed room full of camera crews and observers. Notably absent were grocery mogul Jeff Brown, city developer Allan Domb, candidate Delscia Gray, and David Oh, the only Republican candidate. Ex-police officer John Wood was also absent and has since dropped out of the race. Derek Green and Maria Quiñones-Sánchez have also dropped out of the race since the forum citing financial reasons.
When asked about a “pivotal school experience”, many of the candidates answered by talking about their own experiences with Philly public schools. Helen Gym is a former public school teacher and was the first Asian American woman to serve on Philadelphia’s city council where she was a long-time council member-at-large. Gym started by saying her public school gave her the resources to succeed, and that’s what she wants for schools now. She has a desire to put counselors and nurses back into schools, a necessary improvement as the district has not recovered from the massive nursing and counselor cuts from 2013.
Reverend Warren Bloom is a minister, runs his own videography business, and is an experienced campaigner, having previously run for city commissioner and state legislator. Bloom said he will use school experts from the board and administration to help him run the city, garnering chuckles with his signature catchphrase, “I’m from the hood, I’ll do you good.”
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Maria Quiñones-Sánchez is a grassroots activist and seasoned journalist, as well as a councilmember representing Philadelphia’s 7th district for the last 14 years. Quiñones-Sánchez’ answer highlighted her experience in creating Pennsylvania’s first bilingual charter school and talked about her plans to bring tech opportunities to schools and have free community college for Philadelphia, an initiative that many cities and states have already enacted.
After the opening statements, public high school students were invited to ask questions in a segment moderated by Student School Board Representative (and Editor in Chief of The Bullhorn) Sophia Roach and Robeson High School Principal Richard M. Gordon IV.
The first question was simple, what are the candidates' plans to improve schools? Cherelle Parker, the first to speak from a randomized order, said she plans to advocate for more money from Harrisburg, citing her more than 17 years of experience as a Philadelphia politician and her connections in the capital.
Like Parker, Rebecca Rhynhart wants to rally for more money from Harrisburg and invest that money in libraries, recreational centers, and trauma treatment. Studies have shown that investing in these areas significantly decreases gun-violence in the city, a constant threat to students in Philadelphia, with FOX29 reporting that 88 Philly students have been shot this school year.
Other noteworthy answers included Quiñones-Sánchez’ plan to pay teachers of color more money. This plan would help the disparaging gap between students of color and teachers of color, in Philadelphia, where 81% of students are people of color and yet only 31% of teachers are people of color. As well as Representative Brown’s plan to incentivize college students in Philly to teach in the school district, which would help repair the overall teacher shortage in the district.
A priority for everyone is to gain more funding for the district, and a way for Philly schools to gain more funding is by increasing the tax base, or increasing the amount homeowners and residents living in Philadelphia who pay taxes. The next student questioner asked the candidates how they plan to grow the tax base in Philadelphia.
Helen Gym explained her previous projects to improve Philly streets, which included promising safe passage to and from school and free transportation for students. All the candidates said they plan to create new jobs, with Derek Green planning to do this by growing small businesses. Rhynhart made a point to acknowledge gun violence as a problem that is deterring citizens from buying houses in Philadelphia and is focused on getting illegal guns off the street.
When faced with the harrowing statistics of children killed by guns this year, all the candidates had different solutions to gun violence within the city. Immediately, Rep. Brown said he intends to create a 24/7 social media task force to get on top of gang-related issues, citing gangs as the biggest perpetrator of gun violence in the city. DeLeon takes this a step further, saying he wants a social media ban and curfew for criminals related to shootings, the most unique and objectively authoritarian plan from the candidates. There has been little research done to show whether these tactics will work.
Derek Green believes more police officers will solve the issue and promises to create hiring bonuses to recruit officers. Quiñones-Sánchez wants to support juveniles in detention centers to prevent future gun violence and Rhynhart repeated that she will invest in libraries and rec centers, a proven solution to get children off of the streets.
After the student asked questions, the school board provided their own questions to ask the candidates. The moderators switched to Children’s First executive director Donna Cooper and Dr. Darren Lipscomb of CCP. During this break Representative Amen Brown unexpectedly left the forum.
The school district is currently facing a teacher shortage, with about 270 vacancies according to 6ABC, and part of the responsibility of the mayor is to provide initiatives that will help the school district not only gain new teachers but also keep the ones we have.
When asked how she would do this, Maria Quiñones-Sánchez said she wants to support teachers of color and work with historically Black institutions to create a job pipeline. Green said something similar, that he wants more Black teachers and thinks the best way to do that is by creating hiring bonus for teachers. Rhynhart and Parker both believe that creating a safe city is the first step in getting more teachers and Gym aims to fill the shortage of school nurses and support staff in order to mitigate the teacher shortage.
When asked directly how they plan to procure more funding for schools, Rhynhart and Green both want to go to Harrisburg for the funding, a plan that many mayors have tried in the past. Quiñones-Sánchez, Gym, and Parker all have the same idea to allocate more of the property tax towards school funding, and it is unclear who came up with the idea first. Bloom had a slightly more out-of-the-box idea to increase the tax on coffee, alcohol, and tobacco and use the money from that to go towards schools.
To close out the almost 3-hour long forum, each candidate was asked to talk about what Philly will look like if they were elected mayor.
Derek Green envisions a public safety plan and standards in education, ending his time saying Philadelphia should “expect more and deserve better”.
Reverend Warren Bloom surprised many people in the room by saying that God already knows who the next mayor of Philadelphia will be and the best residents of the city can do is pray.
Under Cherelle Parker’s plan, she expects Philly to be one of the safest, greenest, cleanest cities in the country.
Rebecca Rhynhart’s city will have an increase in safety and cleanliness within a year.
Maria Quiñones-Sánchez plans to have addressed the disinvestment and create a better fiscal plan.
Jimmy DeLeone wants local incident management centers and, in his words, wants Philadelphia to become “a Mecca for Black people.”
Helen Gym’s Philly will have more social workers and less community violence as she promises to “fight for schools children need and deserve.”
All of the candidates have shown their dedication to the city and their passion for improving the school district, their solutions and proposed plans are what differentiates them. With this large group of candidates, it’s important to listen and compare policies in order to vote for someone who best represents you.
Youth voting matters, and your voice can be the deciding factor on whether we elect someone who will increase police funding or cut police funding. The next mayor of Philadelphia will shape the future for the coming years.
Missed this forum? There are more being hosted before the primaries on May 16th! The Inquirer has a list you can find here.
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