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asbestos tape

University of Pennsylvania is donating $100 million to Philadelphia school district

Nov. 23, 2020
The money will help the school district remediate asbestos and lead problems in its aging facilities.

The University of Pennsylvania has announced that it will donate $100 million over 10 years to the Philadelphia school district so the school system can remediate environmental hazards, including asbestos and lead.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the donation is the largest private contribution to the school district in its history.

Penn president Amy Gutmann says she has been contemplating the donation for several months after reading and hearing about the serious environmental issues in city schools.

Gutmann says the money is a voluntary contribution and will come from discretionary funds available to the president, not from the university’s endowment, which stands at nearly $15 billion.

The $100 million figure is just shy of the $125 million Philadelphia Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. says it will take to make all city schools lead and asbestos safe.

Hite says the donation is the product of conversations among the district, Penn, and Mayor Jim Kenney’s office.

For years, the school system has struggled to pay for enough teachers, counselors, and nurses to staff its aging buildings. In May it was forecasting a $700 million deficit. That has likely gotten worse; last month the district said it had to spend $70 million on Covid-19-related expenses.

The 120,000-student school system has long wrestled with environmental problems; the average age of its 200-plus schools is more than 70 years old, and the district estimates it has nearly $5 billion in unmet capital needs.

Flaking lead paint and damaged asbestos have been the two biggest worries. In the 2019-20 school year alone, 11 school buildings were closed, permanently or temporarily, because of asbestos problems.

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