The fact that the School District has a $610 million deficit doesn't inspire confidence in its fiscal management. Consequently, one of the questions that came up last week when the district asked Council for more money was whether Council could use that money to get some accountability from the schools.

Council gives the schools money, but under state law has very little oversight of them. Over the past week, a few ideas for how the city could gain more control have been floated. The legal details of some of these are fuzzy, but they include:

  • Getting a commitment from the district to spend any additional city funding on specific programs identified by Council. This would probably have to be a verbal commitment, rather than a legal one.
  • Transferring money to the school district in chunks, so that Council can monitor what it's being spent on. Councilman Darrell Clarke made a proposal taking this approach today. The trouble with the idea is that under current state law, it only works for one year. The city isn't allowed to reduce its year-to-year contribution to the district.
  • Getting the district to submit to Council oversight. This would mean appearing before Council more frequently and answering questions.
  • Giving the city controller pre-audit authority over school finances.

As Chris Brennan reports, the Nutter administration is hoping to pass a sugary drinks tax to raise money for the schools. We're wondering whether the mayor is interested in attaching any of these measures (or other accountability measures) to that money.

We've got a call in to his office, and we'll update when we hear back. But this point seems especially important given the fact that the schools' budget cuts may be at least partly manufactured to wring money from the city, and the district isn't adequately explaining them.

UPDATE: We heard back from mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald who says the short answer is No, the mayor will not be looking to attach any accountability strings to additional city funds sent to the district.

The longer answer is Nutter wants to build a closer city/school relationship with a "Memorandum of Understanding" that would enable more cooperation between the two (he hopes to get that done this summer). He would also like to see the district do multi-year fiscal plans, as the city does, to avoid fiscal catastrophes such as this. But he does not view the current district request for money as an opportunity to attach conditions to funding or impose greater oversight on the schools. And he doesn't think it's very likely the district would take money intended for full-day kindergarten and spend it on something else.

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