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Council grills Ackerman, voices doubts on "soda tax"

Don't expect any solutions today from City Council regarding how to help close the Philadelphia School District's $629 million gap in next year's budget - next year, of course, beginning in less than a month on July 1.

School District Superintendent Arlene Ackerman testified before Council for the second time in a month, though she faced more grilling this time from Council members fueled with more information about the district's programs and spending.

Ackerman portrayed the district as "at a tipping point," and while no one on Council disagreed, the two sides were not aligned on spending priorities. Or so it seemed as Ackerman sought repeatedly to explain that the district's No. 2 priority was reducing classroom size (No. 1 is restoring SEPTA and yellow bus service to 65,000 students). Council members Jim Kenney, Bill Green and Maria Quinonez Sanchez, among others, were clear that getting fewer students in a classroom was their primary goal, and more important than funding some summer programs and the Promise Academies.

Ackerman made her case, though, that not funding Promise Academies, for instance, would result in more young people going to jail.

Later on in the morning, city Finance Director Rob Dubow and City Solicitor Shelly Smith did their best to push Mayor Nutter's sweetened beverage tax as a way of raising $60 million this year, and $80 million next year, as a way to help the school district. But it didn't seem Council members were big on the tax proposal as they asked questions about potential litigation and confusion over what items would be taxed and what wouldn't (syrups? powered products?).

Next up this afternoon: Testimony from nearly 20 people who have signed up to speak.

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