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Council Hears From School District On Budget Woes

UPDATED: City Council members got budget briefings this morning from the school district, which faces a $629 million shortfall for the coming fiscal year.

The district is set to come before Council for a public budget hearing tomorrow. Today members were briefed by district officials in three small sessions, so that a quorum of members was never present, which would have made the meetings public.

Councilwoman Janie Blackwell said district officials asked the city if they could provide them with a minimum of an additional $50 million to $55 million in funding.

Other council members said that providing additional funding through a shift in how real estate taxes are divided between the city and the district was simply one scenario discussed in the sessions.

The city is currently projected to provide $776 million in tax funding, as well as a $39 million grant to the district for the financial year starting July 1 – about 30 percent of the district's $2.8 billion budget. Next year's budget is far less than the $3.2 billion budget for the current year, which means major cuts to programs and staffing are planned.

Council members were given documents detailing proposed cuts and services that could be saved, like full-day kindergarten and SEPTA trans passes for students, if the city finds a way to provide more money.

"They gave us written material on the cuts," Blackwell said. "It's not [clear] on how they intend to get the money."

Blackwell said she is sympathetic to the districts needs, but said Council would have to figure out what to do, noting that the discussion pertains to "what expenses can be shared…[and whether] we're willing to find a way through millage or tax increases," to raise the money.