By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Two days after Philadelphia school district officials pleaded for City Council to borrow more money than first planned on their behalf, lawmakers introduced a plan to do almost exactly that.

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On Tuesday, School Reform Commission chairman Bill Green called on City Council to borrow a full $55 million for schools this fiscal year, not just the $27 million that Council had authorized (see previous story).

Council ignored that specific plea, and approved just the $27 million in its final meeting of the spring.  The city will carry out the borrowing, then gift the money to the district to help it pay its bills by the end of this month.

But councilmembers then introduced a similar bill to borrow $30 million to help the district in the coming year.

Council president Darrell Clarke said that amount would serve as a stopgap in case Harrisburg approves a city tax on cigarettes.

“The reality is, if we’re successful in getting enabling legislation to enact the tobacco tax, there will be a funding shortfall for the next fiscal year,” Clarke explained this afternoon, “so we want to make sure that we’re in a position to deal with that particular shortfall.  We want to send the appropriate signal that we will make sure that there will be revenue on the table to conclude next year’s school district year.”

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Green was on hand to thank councilmembers.

“The cigarette tax, when fully implemented, will be $87 million (per year).  We’re only going to get $45 million or so next year (if Harrisburg approves it).  This helps fill that hole,” Green said.

The new proposal will not be debated until the fall, but said he Green doesn’t mind.

“We are going to rely on the fact that they (Council members) say they will pass this in the fall, and as a consequence this will avoid over $40 million in cuts.  So we’re very pleased,” Green said.

At the very least this guarantees that the debate over the Philadelphia school district’s financial straits will dominate City Council when it begins its fall session in September.


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