By Mike Dunn
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The big sigh of relief from local education advocates was nearly audible today as members of Philadelphia City Council gave initial approval to using sales tax money to help bail out the cash-starved school district.
Even so, the proposed legislation does not fully meet the district’s needs for the coming year.
Council, voting by voice at the committee level, overwhelmingly approved a bill that devotes about $120 million of city sales tax revenue in the coming year to the schools.
Council president Darrell Clarke’s desire to split that money in later years with the pension fund is also in there (see related story), but only if Harrisburg goes along, and that is unlikely.
Clarke said the measure is just a start.
“We’ve said all along that we’re prepared to put a minimum of $120 million on the table for schools, but that’s not enough, which is why we continue to work with our stakeholders in the (Pennsylvania) General Assembly and the governor’s office and the mayor to try to get additional revenue,” Clarke said today.
In fact, district officials say they’ll need an extra $75 million on top of the $120 million for the coming year from either the city or the state to avoid more layoffs.
Hopes for that additional money are hinging on state approval for a $2-per-pack city tax on cigarettes (another related story), and prospects for that are unclear.
At the hearing prior to the vote, schools superintendant William Hite (at right in photo) was asked what the district will do without that $75 million.
“If we don’t get anything from the cigarette tax, and there’s not revenue that comes from other places, then we’d have to begin a series of spending reductions: a significant number of layoffs and program eliminations,” Hite told the councilmembers.
A final vote on the sales tax measure is expected next week.
Tomorrow, Mayor Nutter is expected to send to Council a bill that deals with the district’s immediate needs — authorizing a borrowing to make up a shortfall in proceeds from the sales of unused district properties (see related story).