Creative Budgeting: Girard College Manages Scotland School

Scotland School is an anachronism, a state boarding school for the children of veterans. It is slated to be shut down because of the fiscal crisis in Pennsylvania. Girard College is also an anachronism, but a successful private school with an endowment reportedly larger than they can spend. Sounds like a partnership could be arranged?

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

This might seem like a very local issue, but it should have resonance as one possible solution to budgeting problems that are happening across the country at the state and local level. In this case, it is a school run by the Commonwealth of PA, the Scotland School, which is at risk. The Scotland School is a remnant of another time, surely, when the state ran schools for, in this case, the children of veterans. It is due to close this year, because of the fiscal crisis here in PA and at order of Governor Rendell. It is sort of a shame, an historic place that educated so many in PA, successfully, is headed to the scrap heap. Here’s a bit about the school from

The Scotland School for Veterans’ Children formally opened on June 1, 1895, to serve orphans of soldiers. Over the years it grew to a residential school for children of veterans and military personnel on active duty.

. . .

About 10,000 students have attended Scotland School for Veterans’ Children since its founding.

The students come from diverse geographic, ethnic and social backgrounds, according to the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. All of the students are being prepared for post-secondary education and/or military service – 84 percent of graduates continue their education and 22 percent enlist in the National Guard or Reserves.

Most of the students are refugees from Philadelphia public schools, where the graduation rates, and rates of kids going on to college, are far, far lower. Yes, this school is valuable, despite being an anachronism. But the Scotland School is an expensive anachronism, soaking up nearly four times the dollars per student as much as is spent for other students in the state. The students at Scotland School are rallying to try to save it, focusing on preserving the funds of the Commonwealth that have kept it going for so long, but it might just be there is a solution in the private sector. Enter Girard College, another anachronism serving Philadelphia students.

Girard College is funded by the estate of Stephen Girard, who died in 1831 as perhaps the richest man in America. Stephen Girard gave all of his fortune to found the school, originally for white orphan boys from Philadelphia. No, it is not a college, but a cschool serving children from kindergarten through 12th grade. The school evolved to serve kids of all genders and races, though there is still a restriction that the kids must have just one parent. Girard College’s funds are now managed by the Board of Directors of City Trusts here in Philadelphia. They provide the administration of the endowment that supports Girard College. and that endowment is large. And there have been arguments over whether the enormous estate, grown because of coal mines of Girard property in central, PA, is being adequately spent for the support of Girard College and its students. Stephen Girard’s heirs contested the money in the distant past, and the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote an expose on the huge sums administered by the Board of City Trusts for the support of Girard College in 1997. The conclusion then was that Girard College was not getting the benefit of all the sums it could have received, that the estate was producing far more funds than Girard College could spend. It is not clear that is still the case 12 years later, perhaps because of the secretive nature that has always been the operating strategy of the Board of City Trusts.

So here’s the question. Is the Stephen Girard Estate still producing far more money than Girard College needs to operate? If so, then saving Scotland School seems an entrepreneurial project along the lines of Girard College’s mission. Well, it may be that Girard College doesn’t have the funds to accomplish this task, though the funds from which they draw are hard to figure in scope. The Board of City Trusts is composed of some of the most important leaders in Philadelphia, including Mayor Nutter, Council Chair Anna Verna, and soon to be convicted former State Senator Vince Fumo. It seems to me there is an opportunity to transform Scotland School here, and that Girard College could play a huge role in that transformation. Helping preserve an institution that is serving so many Philadelphia students so well is a goal worth pursuing, even if these officials have a whole bunch of other fiscal priotrities on their slate.

OK, a bit of a creative solution. We’ve got a state institution, Scotland School, which will close soon. We’ve got a private institution, Girard College, which has a whole pile load of money. The missions of the schools are similar and they both perform their tasks of educating students fr better than does the Philadelphia School system. So, would someone besides me mention it to anybody in power over there at the Board of City Trusts?

Friday, February 13th, 2009 by Steven Reynolds |

Virginity Pledge Causes Amnesia

If you read FoxNews, you will conclude that teens who take the virginity pledge lose their memory. As usual, stellar journalism from FoxNews, but the real story is that the virginity pledge has no effect on premarital sexual behavior, except that Virgin Pledgers are less likely to use birth control. I call it the Bristol Palin effect.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

Well, that seems to be one of the conclusions of the research by the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, as reported by FoxNews:

Of those sampled, almost 60 percent had sex and more than 50 percent had oral sex five years later, and more than 80 percent of those who had taken virginity pledges had forgotten they ever did so.

OK, that’s FoxNews, which leads the article with the encouraging, if misleading, headline “Study: Religious Teens More Likely to Abstain from Sex.” The real news can be found in several other articles on the web, but I’ll quote from Psych Central News:

The study found more than half of youths surveyed engaged in sexual activity, regardless of whether they had made a pledge to remain sexually abstinent.

Researchers also discovered something not entirely unexpected – virginity pledgers were 10 percent less likely to use a form of birth control.

. . .

The findings suggest that “virginity pledges” do little to deter teenage sexuality. It also suggests that people who take such pledges are at a slightly increased risk for pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases when they do have sex, due to their decreased use of condoms or other birth control.

I suppose that explains Bristol Palin, eh?

To be serious, the abstinence-only education the Bush Administration has squandered $200MM on is bound to fail, according to scientifically-based criteria, and the reason it will fail is that it depends on a pledge to take over for any notion of rational thought. The girl or boy who takes the pledge is as likely as any other teen to end up in a “romantic” situation, whether on Prom night or while playing pool in the local bar. When the situation gets out of control, the next morning that teen can just blame the moment, and need not blame the lack of responsible planning. That’s the effect of abstinence-only education – it is a program that results in the abnegation of responsibility.

Aw, teens today! They’re not responsible about sex, and thus don’t use condoms, at least if taught the Republican way. No, none of us are surprised that Republicans do not advocate responsibility.

Monday, January 5th, 2009 by Steven Reynolds |

Mr. Obama, Come Try Some “Wooder” Ice

The press is all atwitter because Barack Obama ditched them to take the girls to a water park. Then they got petulant and wouldn’t join him for a shave ice at a local food stand in Hawaii. Obama should have more real life encounters, and I propose one complete with Philly water ice at Fitler Academics Plus School in Germantown, where kids are inspirational.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

Mr. Obama is still in Hawaii. He escaped reporters in what they are jokingly referring to as Waikiki-gate, a swift move whereby the Barack Obama took Malia and Sasha to a water park without press interference. Then they stopped for “shave ice,” evidently some form of Hawaiian delicacy not unlike South Philadelphia water ice, pronounced “wooder ice” by the locals here. As noted by the Washington Post, Mr. Obama treated several kids who happened to be at the shave ice shop, and it got me thinking. The kids of Fitler Academics Plus School here in Philly have sent off letters of advice to the President, and He should come out here, maybe with Sasha and Malia, and listen to their fine words.

I don’t expect our Philadelphia kids to tell Mr. Obama all about Michael Nutter’s infrastructure projects. Michael probably has someone down in DC whispering in the appropriate ears already. But the kids at Fitler have taken Mr. Obama’s message of hope to heart and it needs some recognition by the President-elect. The eighth graders there have formed the Obama Hope Organization, a group of kids helping each other with tutoring and reading and, well, hope. Barack Obama’s election has been an inspiration for the students, and they’ve all written him a letter. Here are some excerpts, from the Philadelphia Inquirer:

“I hope that you have a great life and that you will be the greatest, because I was Barack Obama for Halloween and I wanted black people to kick it up a notch and win. Call me anytime,” wrote Tymeer Beal, who conveniently provided the president-elect with his phone number in case Obama wanted his advice on kicking it up a notch.

. . .

“I said, –I hope you can fix stuff, because people are poor,’ ” said Kyrell Harrison.

“I want Barack Obama to help the older people and the younger people,” Daisy Stone said.

“I said, –Will you please be a good president and we’re counting on you,’ ” said Jaden Rimes, a confident young man who says he knows exactly what it means to be the president: “It means taking care of people. And lowering prices.”

The real reason Obama should visit the school, and have them treat him to some Philadelphia Water Ice is that they have embodied the Obama theme of hope and service, with the older kids digging in and helping the younger ones. We don’t need an Obama visit to Philly to boost Michael Nutter’s plans. (Hey, if Michael gets the Eagles to pay up, then I’ll ask for an Obama visit just for him!) The notion of a visit by Barack Obama to this city school that is doing wonders, especially with it’s student-run Obama Hope Organization, is to reward the students for ispiring all of us. They also make me smile. Here’s the last little bit of the article, with some of the goals of the kids, and a bit of humor (from the Philadelphia Inquirer):

The Obama Hope Organization, chartered by a handful of seventh- and eighth-grade students, has big plans.

Eighth grader Sierra Graham ticked off the things she wants the group to accomplish, aligned with Obama’s focus on education and health care.

“We should try to influence the young children to be anything they want to be,” Graham said. (Think of the planned literacy campaign and a tutoring program for students who need help, she added.)

Her friend Michelle Harvey, who said the group wants to recruit more members, nodded.

“We hope to volunteer our time, to give back, to be mentors. We’ll donate to the less fortunate,” Harvey said.

But the talk isn’t all serious, Kyshon Jackson confessed. She’s spent a fair amount of time thinking about how the president is cute.

“At first, I was going to write him a love letter,” she said. “But I didn’t think Michelle would like it. She seems feisty.”

Every holiday season needs a little inspiration, and after eight years of Bush Christmases, with soldiers in harms way, with disasters bungled, with the envirnoment trashed and the economy now in shambles, we need to take our inspiration where we can get it. Seventh and eighth graders are a good source if you ask me.

Saturday, December 27th, 2008 by Steven Reynolds |

The Unraveling of the McCain Campaign

The McCain campaign can’t buy a break, and the failure of the Bailout McCain took credit for is part of that. The actions of McCain staffers, Palin, McCain himself, they make the campaign look like it is staffed by fools. They have not resorted to playing the blame game after claiming to be above politics on the issue of the bailout.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

As noted in today’s New York Times story, John McCain had just as much as the American people from a bailout passing yesterday. He desperately needs to get the subject of the economy off the minds of Americans. He’s falling further in the polls, both the FoxNews/Rasmussen and the LA Times/Bloomberg. Heck, there’s even a second poll joining the outlier putting Obama slightly ahead in North Carolina. No, it is not looking good for Mr. McCain, and everywhere you look the wheels are coming off.

McCain’s campaign, against the evidence, think McCain acted heroically this last week in the face of the finaicial crisis. As I note here, McCain’s words from Sunday through Monday, when the bailout McCain staked his campaign on failed, were all over the map. No central message whatsoever. It gets worse when one looks at the video of McCain economic adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin defending McCain’s actions this past week. The guy sounds like Sarah Palin being interviewed by Katie Couric. (Hey, is that metaphor about Palin and Couric going to replace the example of the South Carolina Beaty Pageant contestant as an example of incoherence?) I’m betting Holtz-Eakin would love to quit his job and go back in time to think up new excuses for the failed reasons the Bush Administration chose for invading Iraq. That would surely be an easier job than defending the erratic behavior of John McCain.

At the same time the McCain campaign can’t seem to coordinate between John and Sarah. Sarah Palin goes off message, so McCain says it’s OK because she was only talking to a voter. McCain, meanwhile, wants to solve the healthcare crisis using clinics in WalMarts – a nice idea, but you just don’t SAY that people will get their healthcare at WalMart. He’s opening himself up to ridicule left and right. Ridicule? Ridicule? Time to note that Sarah Palin knows of no other case ever to come before the Supreme Court other than Roe v. Wade. That part of the Couric interview hit the cutting room floor. So there’s the reason the McCain campaign wasn’t slamming Couric, there was more out there showing Palin as unprepared.

So, what’s the main thrust of the last several days of action? It is the same as it was in the first debate between Obama and McCain. Obama is steady and Presidential, McCain is an unpredictable and angry old man. I sincerely hope this bailout gets settled later this week. While McCain surely deserves to lose this election, both for his performance and for the future of our country, it is a bit sad seeing him make such an utter fool of himself.

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008 by Steven Reynolds |