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Council Ponders Dire Schools Prediction

The School District's top man, Thomas Knudsen, made a dire prediction Tuesday night: If the city doesn't cough up more money, schools won't open in the fall.

So, how did that news play Wednesday in City Council, where members were listening to public testimony mostly opposing a property reassessment plan that would deposit an extra $94 million in the school budget?

"Unfortunately, it looks like the hyperbole has begun," said Councilman Bill Green. "I would say that Mr. Knudsen should not start the conversation with Council with threats because we're the ones with the votes."

This is the second year in a row the school district has turned to the city to fill a giant shortfall in its budget.

Last year, Council members passed a property tax hike to raise $37 million for the schools, partly with the promise that the state would kick in money if they did so. That never happened.

The mood in Council chambers Wednesday seemed to be along the lines of "fool me once … " As Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez said, the state "cannot get a pass on this."

"This Council this year doesn't want to be pinned to the wall," she said. "They have to come up with something."

The state at least has to restore $110 million in charter school reimbursements, Green said, especially given that the district is proposing to move toward more charters.

"And then I'll consider additional revenue for the school district," he said. "But they need to go first."

Last year, the Nutter administration also made the district sign an "accountability agreement" to provide more financial information to the city. Council members said there might need to be a new agreement this year, especially given the radical restructuring the district has proposed.

"We clearly did not have a sense of the magnitude of the problems," Council President Darrell L. Clarke said. "I don't feel comfortable that the arrangement that was reached last year ... put us in an position to get real time information in a very accurate way."

Councilman David Oh said he knew that people were skeptical of the school district because "there has been the crying of wolf many times." But he said not stepping up to help the schools would be a disaster for the city.

"This is a time where you're supposed to jump and there's supposed to be a net underneath us," he said. "And that net better be there, because you can't not jump either. You have to do something."

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