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Council huddles on school funds; District provides spending breakdown

Council President Clarke, focused on closing the deficit, calls Hite’s request for new funds a “Cadillac version” of education.

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

City Council spent Wednesday in a closed-door session considering how to raise additional revenue for the schools.

Reports indicate that Council President Darrell Clarke is looking at a solution short of the $105 million the District has asked for, and Mayor Nutter’s proposed 9 percent property tax increase is apparently not on the table.

Superintendent William Hite is asking for $200 million from the state and $105 million from the city, not only to restore some personnel and services slashed over the last several years, but also to embark on his reform plan.

District officials say that $82 million is still needed for next year just to keep services at current levels, due to rising costs for pensions, benefits, charter schools, and debt service.

Last week, they made their pitch to Council, which reacted icily. Clarke sent Hite a letter asking him to detail exactly how the District spent $327 million in additional funds that Council has sent the District over the last several years, since state funding was slashed.

The District sent Clarke responses earlier this week, which emphasized that the funds prevented cuts from being more severe. It also answered other Council questions.

On Wednesday, Clarke made it clear to WHYY reporter Tom MacDonald that Council is not necessarily on board with giving the District all that it has asked for.

Gov. Wolf’s budget plan, which faces rough sailing in the Republican legislature, would send $159 million more to Philadelphia and also provide tax relief. But Clarke said that tax relief is not likely for next fiscal year. He and other Council members have indicated that there is "no appetite" for tax increases in Philadelphia.

"The deficit is $82 million — I think that Council and the state will deal with that particular deficit," Clarke told MacDonald. "The $300 million figure [from the city and the state] is essentially [Superintendent] Hite’s Cadillac version of what he’d like to see moving forward."

Council is considering a much smaller property tax increase, a tax lien sale, raising the use-and-occupancy tax, and the tax on parking lots. The tax lien sale would not be recurring revenue.

Helen Gym, one of the five Democratic nominees for Council at-large, urged Council members to approve the full $105 million.

“One of the reasons the city finds itself in trouble with school funding every year is because too often we rely on unsustainable solutions that don’t offer stability for proper budgetary planning. My plan lays out four areas where City Council can raise the resources necessary to meet the superintendent’s request for $105 million in local funding, and does so through stable and recurring sources of revenue.”