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Council President Faults Phila. School District For Current Budget Gap

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(Philadelphia City Council president Darrell Clarke confers with school advocates outside City Council chambers.  Photo by Mike Dunn)

(Philadelphia City Council president Darrell Clarke confers with school advocates outside City Council chambers. Photo by Mike Dunn)

Mike Dunn Mike Dunn
Mike Dunn is City Hall bureau chief for KYW Newsradio 1060. He covers...
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By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia City Council president Darrell Clarke says the school district’s immediate need for $35 million by month’s end is a “self-inflicted wound” because the district, in his view, dragged its feet on selling old, shuttered buildings.

Introduced in City Council today is a bill that allows the city to borrow up to $20 million — money that would then be gifted to the School District of Philadelphia to balance its books for the current school year.

District officials, though, say they need a total of $35 million because they’ve only sold seven of 27 old school buildings that are up for sale (see related story).

Council President Clarke says if the district had been more aggressive on selling the properties, they wouldn’t have this immediate cash crunch.

“It is a self-inflicted wound, because they chose not to take advantage of several lucrative opportunities as it related to being in a position to have school (property sale) transactions,” Clarke said.

The borrowing will be debated in committee next week, at which point the amount could be increased to the full $35 million that the district needs.

But Council majority leader Curtis Jones says the city could come up with the $15 million difference in other ways, such as dipping into the city surplus (known as the “fund balance”), or from other corners of the city budget.

“There are theories that there is enough cushion in the budget to cover it if necessary.   So we’re going to wait a little to see just how much of a gap it truly is,” Councilman Jones said.

All of this is separate from the much larger deficit facing the school district in the next school year.   City Council next week is expected to give final approval to devoting $120 million in city sales tax revenue to the district (see related story).

But that still leaves the schools $75 million short for fiscal year 2015, and schools superintendent William Hite has warned that layoffs and program reductions will come if that gap isn’t filled (another related story).

City officials, including Clarke and Mayor Nutter, are banking on state approval of a $2-a-pack city tax on cigarettes, but whether Harrisburg goes along likely won’t be known before Council adjourns for the summer, in two weeks.

 

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