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Nutter: Opening schools with adequate staffing is number one priority

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

by Holly Otterbein for NewsWorks

Some education advocates charge that Mayor Nutter is not doing enough to ensure that schools open in September with adequate staffing.

But Nutter says that is his one, laser-like target right now.

“My primary focus, fairly singular focus at the moment,” he said, “is making sure that we can open schools six weeks from now with the appropriate level of personnel.”

He is urging City Council to extend the one percentage point local sales tax in order to raise $120 million annually for the schools in future years. Instead, some Council members want to split the sales tax proceeds between schools and the city’s drastically underfunded pension system.

If Council approves the sales-tax extension, that will also let the city borrow $50 million on behalf of the School District this year. District officials thought they would already have an additional $50 million in hand by now.

“We can’t move forward on that borrowing until the sales tax extension has been approved here in the city,” said Nutter.

The mayor has expressed opposition to the proposal put forward by Councilwoman María Quiñones-Sánchez on Wednesday that the city should tap its surplus to deliver up to $50 million in funds to schools instead of borrowing against sales tax revenues. Nutter says the city’s reserves are too low to do that.

Nutter is hoping that the General Assembly will OK a $2-a-pack cigarette tax in Philadelphia, which has already been passed by City Council. It is expected to generate about $46 million for the schools this year. But the legislature is expected to reconvene in September, not in time to provide funds that would help staff schools when they open.

Moving forward, Nutter said the state should craft a formula that fairly allocates aid for schools across Pennsylvania.

“We should spend our time focused on the big, number one issue with regard to education in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” he said, “which is determining a new, fair and efficient funding formula for public education all across the commonwealth.”

If that happens, he said, “Philadelphia would certainly be a beneficiary.”

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