by Sue Ann Rybak
Democratic candidates for Council-at-large — Derek Green, a former special council for Councilwoman Marian Tasco, and Helen Gym, a former Philadelphia public school teacher and education advocate — urged members of Mt. Airy-Nippon-Bryan-Cresheim Town Watch to not be complacent about the election in November.
About 35 members of the town watch listened to Green and Gym discuss issues such as education and the need for more services for small business owners on Oct. 1 at a resident’s home on the 100 block of West Mt. Airy Avenue.
First to speak was Gym.
“For me, politics is only meaningful when communities themselves create the political environment in which people have to take action,” Gym said. “For example, in Philadelphia’s China Town, residents asked questions about whether a gambling casino is really considered economic development when it wipes out neighbors and preys on the elderly and the poor.”
She said in order for communities to feel whole and people to feel supported, policies must be put in place to prevent public interest groups from exploiting vulnerable communities.
“One of the reasons the city finds itself in trouble with school funding every year is because too often we rely on unsustainable solutions that don’t offer stability for proper budgetary planning,” Gym said. “My plan lays out four areas where City Council can raise the resources necessary to meet the Superintendent’s request for $105 million in local funding, and does so through stable and recurring sources of revenue.”
She added despite Hite’s recent statement that the district was at “the saturation point on charter schools,” earlier this month, he released a plan that would convert three elementary schools to charter schools and close two middle schools: Beeber in Wynnefield and Leeds in East Mount Airy.
“At the same time, really great longstanding schools like Henry and Houston are struggling,” she said. “We are not paying attention to special needs children, where I personally think we are breaking the law by not providing nurses and counselors in schools.”
Mt. Airy resident Derek Green, whose son Julian has autism, also commented on the need for fair and adequate funding for neighborhood public schools – especially services for special needs children.
He said he knows firsthand the impact support services can make in the life of a special needs child. Green, whose mother was a public school teacher for 30 years, helped developed an autism support class at Houston Elementary School in Mt. Airy. He said the school now has three support classes.
Over the years, Green has been involved in several civic organizations including Center in the Park and Mount Airy USA.
Green then shifted his comments to economic policy.
“I think one of the best ways we can address poverty is by increasing jobs,” he said.
The former shoe store owner said successful small businesses are essential in helping to create “the fabric of our communities.”
“Imagine if you have a small business and you are able hire additional employees, those additional employees may now be able to buy a home or invest those additional funds in their home,” he said. “That ultimately will provide more economic dollars to improve the value of that real estate, which means ultimately more dollars for the school district.”
He said the city needs to do a better job of helping small business owners grow.
“If you are a small business owner, you don’t have time to go downtown for a forum on a Thursday morning at 9 a.m. because you are running your business,” he said. “We need to bring a lot more services to business owners through commercial corridors. The city needs to be a much better steward of the resources we have.
“Growing up in a Baptist church in Germantown, I often think of the collection and being a steward of money and I can take that kind of sensibility to City Council if I am successful in being elected.”
Both Gym and Green will be on the ballot on Election Day, Tuesday Nov. 8.