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Mixed reaction to District request in Council

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[Updated, 6:30 p.m.] City Councilman W. Wilson Goode, Jr., was quick to ask District officials the question: "How much money are you asking for?"

The galleries in City Council chambers burst into applause. It was an indication that some in Council were taking seriously the District's request for additional funds.

But as Council considered the District's budget today, not all were ready to back plans for a boost in city funding to the District.

Goode said that he and other members of Council were open to providing additional support but not for the general pot. "We're not doing business that way this year," he said.

In 2007, the last time the District received more money from the city, specific terms on how it was to be used were written into the funding resolution, Goode said. He expressed concern that Chief Financial Officer Michael Masch could not detail how those extra dollars were being spent.

Councilman Darrell Clarke also explored in his questioning whether there are ways that the city can put strings on the District's use of additional funds. District Chief Counsel Michael Davis said he would like to look more closely into the issue of how to restrict funds.

Asked during a midday recess whether he was ready to support additional funding, Councilman Bill Green said, "Not at this point - I'm not close to being there."

The councilman said he had a number of unanswered questions about how the District was spending its existing $2.7 billion budget. "We have no or limited oversight with respect to what they spend," he said.

He got his turn to grill District officials in the afternoon. For all his harsh questioning, he also said that “working together we can jump hurdles, I think we’re going to work that out.”

Green did express concern that giving the District additional real estate tax revenues would effectively make the city's 9.9 percent tax increase from 2009 permanent. Some have proposed that the city boost the District's share of the total real estate millage, which did not increase in 2009, causing the share for education to drop from 60 percent to 55 percent.

Under the state takeover law, the city is not allowed to rescind revenue increases it provides to the School District. Directing more real estate tax revenues to the schools would lock the city in to continuing to provide that funding even if the tax increase is allowed to expire.

Councilman James Kenney was one of several Council members who directed his outrage at the state cuts and who they impact. He said he would not second-guess the spending and cutting priorities that the District presented. “I am not an educator,” he said.

But to lose full-day kindergarten, he said, “would create such chaos in the educational process of kids and in family life of moms and dads. … Are we going to leave these people hanging because the state wants to keep its rainy day fund?”

Corbett, he said, “is asking Philadelphia to make $400 million in cuts in a state that has a $500 million surplus. Poor districts got cut 30-40 percent while rich districts were cut only 9 percent.”

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Paul Socolar

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Paul is the Notebook's former editor and publisher and also one of its founders in 1994.