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Council not ready to sign off on AVI, additional schools funding

The school district may need more cash, but many City Council members today said they aren't ready to support Mayor Nutter's proposed property reassessment plan, which would yield $94 million in additional schools funding.

"Once bitten, twice shy," said Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., referring to a similar plea for funds from the district last year. "We got bitten last year by the notion of saving kindergarten…Now we're proceeding, unfortunately for them, with a notion of accountability."

The school district's chief recovery officer Thomas Knudsen yesterday said that without the revenues anticipated with the passage of the Mayor's proposed property tax plan, it was not clear the schools could open in the fall, according to this Inquirer report. The district would still face a shortfall, even if the city provides additional funds.

Councilmembers said they understood the schools need funds, but said they wanted more information about what the money would pay for. Members also said that while they understand that the current property tax system is flawed, there are unanswered questions about how Nutter's proposed shift to a property tax system based on market values, known as the Actual Value Initiative (AVI), would work and if there would be enough protections for vulnerable homeowners.

As Nutter has proposed it, the move to AVI would collect an additional $94 million for schools, a revenue increase that critics have labeled a "back door tax hike," while Nutter says he is just capturing the increase in property values. Some members have said they'd like to debate the move to AVI and the additional schools funding as two separate issues.

Councilman Kenyatta Johnson said he still needed more information.

"I'm still waiting to look at all of our options. As much as I have a concern for children, I have to take into account the impact AVI has on all of my district," Johnson said.

Some Councilmembers have expressed support for the mayor's propsosals. Councilwomen Blondell Reynolds Brown and Maria Quinones-Sanchez today had an op-ed in the Daily News, saying they support the move to AVI and the additional funding the mayor wants to collect.

Meanwhile, Councilman Mark Squilla, who has proposed delaying the move to AVI for a year, said he'd like to see more support from the state government for the schools.

"We have to put the state's feet to the fire," Squilla said. "The state took over the school district."