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City Council leader, schools chief clash over means to fund schools

By Kevin McCorry for NewsWorks on Jun 11, 2014 09:13 AM
Photo: NewsWorks

The Philadelphia School District's budget crises never seem to end.

In fact, even as students and parents hold their collective breath for the possibility of even more cuts to classroom resources for next school year, the ghost of last year's crisis lingers.

Last summer, Superintendent William Hite said he would not open schools unless the District received an additional $50 million from the city.

Soon after, Mayor Nutter and Council President Darrell Clarke held competing press conferences with differing visions for how to deliver this funding. Both parties assured the District that it could count on the needed revenue.

Schools, though severely underresourced, opened.

Ten months later, District officials and city politicians are still squabbling over that $50 million.

Clarke had wanted the District to allow the city to sell its unused school buildings as a way to generate the revenue.

If the District had gone along with Clarke's plan, the city would have fronted the District $50 million in November in exchange for the titles to the District's surplus real estate.

The District instead chose to sell the first batch of unused properties itself. Hite reasoned that this has allowed for greater community input on "hundreds of millions of dollars worth of public properties."

In February, the District announced that it had agreements of sale for six of its properties in deals that would net $26 million.

The District expects to close these sales by June 30.

On top of the $50 million, the District's FY14 budget was counting on $11 million in building sales, creating a total need of $61 million. Deducting the $26 million in anticipated sales, the District has been counting on the city to come through on an additional $35 million.

Without these funds, the District says, it will pay the remainder of this year's bills, but next year's budget hole would grow proportionately.

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Comments (4)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 11, 2014 4:38 pm
We are all tired of all the squabbling over money needed for the SDP every day ,week , month, and year. Give the District adequate money to run the schools. Many cuts were already implemented (including many lay offs that they cannot afford-being short staff already) over the last 3-4 years ,so where else can be cut, except some upper administrative staff at 440 and their inflated salaries? If the SDP doesn't get the money from city, state (as they are required to fairly fund schools), why not just borrow it? Who is reasonable for that debt if, in the end, the District can't afford to pay it all back or it carries over and over year after year and eventually defaults ? Would that be the SDP, or ultimately the state or city that would have to pay it ? If the state or city is responsible -for this debt -just borrow it and let them pay it back since you can't reason with them to fund the districts properly ,like stated in the Commonwealth Constitution..
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 11, 2014 5:20 pm
The SDP is about to get its debt downgraded. No one is going to lend the SDP money if they think it will default. Interest expense on existing debt is a huge cost to the district already. Borrowing in the past to fund operations then is now hurting the district. You can't kick the can down the road forever.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 11, 2014 6:24 pm
Priorities are soooo messed up in this city and state it is just sad. If this is the future, I dont want to live in Philly no more.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on June 12, 2014 12:15 pm
Perhaps Council should be allowed to participate in the SRC's decision making, with the exception of conflicts of interest (building sales) and the condition that whatever decision they support, they must also find funding for (such as keeping schools (in their own district) open).

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