By Mike Dunn
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — City Council on Wednesday gave initial approval to a school district bailout that falls short of what school officials wanted — and it was done in a way that left the Superintendent scratching his head.
Council, voting at the committee level, approved increases to three taxes — property, use and occupancy, and parking — that Council President Darrell Clarke said will bring the District an extra $70-million in the coming year.
“We’ve laid out what we believe to be a balanced plan,” Clarke said. “Some would say we’re spreading the pain. The simple reality is, we don’t think its fair to only go back to taxpayers as it relates to real estate. We will provide in $70-million in additional annual funding.”
But School Superintendent William Hite left council confused and perplexed, because $25-million of that $70-million is being held in Council’s own budget. Hite said that means the District is only guaranteed $45-million:
“There was another $25-million that was put into their budget that could — we hope — eventually come to the School District,” Hite said. “But today, we don’t know where that is going, or the purpose of it, or if there will be any criteria associated with it.”
Hite said now he’s looking for clarity.
“We can ask what will happen with the other $25-million, how will that come from City Council’s budget to the School District,” he said. “So I will go back and ask.”
But even the $70-million promised by Clarke is less that Hite’s request of $103-million, and short of the District’s projected deficit of $84-million. This leaves Hite with tough choices.
“My job as Superintendent is to say this is what we need to adequately and sufficiently educate children,” Hite said. “As of right now, we do not have enough revenue to do that.”
Council’s action was at odds with Mayor Michael Nutter’s original proposal for a 9.3% property tax hike to raise $105-million for the schools. The property tax component of Council’s plan amounts to about a 4.5% increase.
The school funding measures, along with the entire city operating and capital budgets, are now expected to be given final approval on June 18th, Council’s final scheduled meeting before its summer recess.