Philadelphia Schools Safety Director Looks into Improper Access to School Parking Lots

The Philadelphia School District is investigating whether staffers at University City High School have been improperly selling parking permits to people who don't work for the school or other district facilities in the area.

Currently, both Dexter Green, the district's chief safety executive in charge of school police, and John F. Downs, the district's inspector general, have been asked to look at the allegations, schools spokesman Fernando A. Gallard said yesterday.

School employees allegedly are charging $50 a month for parking to people who work nearby, creating a source of frustration for University High teachers.

Teachers told the Daily News they are tired of coming to work each day and scrambling to find parking while prime spaces on school grounds are occupied by people who work for the University of Pennsylvania, the Science Center or other nearby institutions.

Teachers say they must park farther away, are sometimes late getting to work, and feel unsafe if they have after-school activities as it gets darker earlier in the day.

"I know so many people who have gotten tickets on their cars, and they have an ID card on their cars," said one teacher.

Teachers did not want their names used. They said some teachers have suffered reprisals for speaking out.

The frustration has led some teachers to conduct their own surveillance of cars parked around the school at 36th and Filbert streets.

They said they observed drivers leaving cars that had authentic yellow "UCHS" permits hanging in the windshield. These people walked away from the school toward Market Street and other locations.

The Daily News observed the area outside the school for several days before and after Thanksgiving and saw people returning to their cars (with UCHS permits) from the Market Street direction at 4:40 p.m. and again at 5:10 p.m..

These workers walked up the south side of Filbert Street - the opposite side of the street from the school - then crossed Filbert to walk into a huge sidewalk area used for parking. The cars they entered had yellow "UCHS" parking permits on them identical to those issued to staffers.

On another day, just before 9 a.m., a woman crossed Filbert from the school to walk toward Market Street.

She said, "I don't park at the school, but people in my office do. They go inside and talk to this woman. I don't know if she's the principal or not, but they say she's very temperamental." The woman said she worked at Penn Fertility.

After questions from the Daily News, School District Chief Operations Officer Fred Farlino called in Green to look into the matter.

Farlino said the practice of selling parking permits to people who do not work for the school district is a violation of district policy. Anyone found selling permits would be subject to disciplinary actions, Farlino said.

University City Principal M. Sandra Dean, named to the job in August 2003, denies that the permits are still being sold. She acknowledged that there had been a practice of selling permits to a number of people in nearby offices to raise money for the William Ross Scholarship Fund dating back to 1995.

"When I came on board as administrator, I found out that this was the practice, and I immediately said, 'We can't do this,' and this was stopped," Dean said yesterday.

She said she told "everyone involved that this was not a practice that was to continue here."

But she said there are some exceptions for University of Pennsylvania professors and staff who teach courses at the high school.

Yesterday, Gallard said that both Green and Downs, who reports directly to the School Reform Commission, are still investigating.

"I urge anyone alleging that parking spaces are being sold to contact Dexter Green, or the principal," Gallard said.

Gallard said if anyone is uncomfortable contacting the principal, they should contact Green at 215-299-7967. He also said anyone with proof of the allegations could contact Downs, at 215-875-3847, or contact Downs on an anonymous line at 215-875-3844. There is also a fax line at 215-875-3858.

Gallard said that of a list of 12 license plates obtained by teachers, five or six of the cars were owned by employees of either University City High, the Walnut Center, a school district day-care center or Drew Elementary, both near the high school's Warren Street side.

The school district's investigators are now tracking down the owners of the other cars reported to have improper permits and will interview the owners to find out how and when they obtained those permits, Gallard said.

Both teachers and administrators report a long history of animosity between some members of the teaching staff and administration at the school.

The former principal at the school, Florence Johnson, was reassigned partly because of this tension, teachers allege.

The teachers' claims of being unable to resolve the parking problems with Dean were outlined in a three-page memo dated April 22. It was sent from the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers' Building Committee to school district administration officials.

"There has been an ongoing controversy here regarding the selling of parking passes to nonschool district employees," said Jeff Rosenberg, a teacher and PFT building rep.

"Staff members were complaining to me and other members of the building committee that they're having a difficult time parking and being inconvenienced," he said.

Jerry Jordan, vice president of the PFT, said parking was always a problem for University City teachers when he was a teacher there during the 1980s.

"There was a federal building at 36th and Market streets, and for years there was a problem."

During the summer, the school was closed and the federal employees parked there.

"In September, we had to go through the problem of getting people not to park on the lot, so we could park. Notices were put on windshields to let the drivers know the spots were for the school staff."

But today's teachers say that spirit of looking out for the school staff isn't the same.

In an April memo to school district administrators, the PFT's Building Committee said: "The University City administration has been selling parking permits to nonschool district employees for parking on school district property reserved for its employees. These employees then cruise around seeking available parking."

It also says, "University City High School staff should not have to compete with this extracurricular enterprise."

And as recently as October, fliers were alleged to have been found on cars in the parking lot that essentially solicited illegal parkers to acquire a permit, teachers charge.

But Principal Dean said she had not seen copies of the fliers and suggested they could have been faked.

"In this computer age, people can do anything they want in cases of falsifying information," Dean said.

Dean said the problems at University City High School are being fomented by "disgruntled employees" who want to hurt her administration.

In October, the Daily News received and reported about a copy of a letter apparently written on School District of Philadelphia stationery - and allegedly signed by Dean - that informed community groups that wanted to use the school that they must make a $300 donation to the William Ross Scholarship Fund.

That letter, which Dean denied writing or signing, said the donation had to be paid in addition to any payments made to the district's Office of Facilities.

Even students say they know about the parking problems. Some football players were waiting around for practice one afternoon when a car zoomed through the parking lot and a circular driveway to get from Filbert Street to Warren Street on the other side of the school.

The football players had to scramble to get out of the way.

Asked if outsiders used the parking lot, the teens said it happens all the time.

There are no spaces for the teachers, said Keith Tillman.

"I see them come in in the morning, looking for a space. Then, I see them drive off."