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Council delays school budget hearings

The three-week delay, urged by Mayor Street, frustrated some members and education advocates.

City Council's annual public grilling of the Philadelphia School District budget - expected to be extra-heated because of a looming deficit - has been postponed for more than three weeks at Mayor Street's request, drawing criticism from some Council members and education advocates.

The hearings, originally scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, will be consolidated on one day, May 23, starting at 10 a.m.

Street asked for the delay yesterday in a letter to Council President Anna C. Verna.

"As you know, the administration has been working closely with Gov. Rendell's office to determine more accurately the district's financial needs," Street wrote. "I expect this process to be completed in the next 30 days."

But Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr. and Paul Vallas, the school district's departing chief executive, speculated that Street was trying to hinder Goode's proposal to give the district more city tax revenue.

Education advocates said they were stunned and riled.

"It was highly irresponsible for City Council to push this back for a month," district parent Helen Gym said.

"We have a . . . deficit, and we need the politicians who are representing the people's interest to ask them hard questions about where the SRC's priorities are and what it means for schools and kids in this city," Gym added, referring to the School Reform Commission. "It's baffling to us as to what they're really waiting for."

The 173,000-student district is faced with cutting its $2.18 billion budget by nearly $100 million and could have to slash more without additional city and state revenues, which make up the bulk of its funding.

The commission plans to adopt the budget May 29, just six days after the rescheduled hearings.

State Budget Secretary Michael Masch, a former school commissioner, has been analyzing the district's budget at the governor's and mayor's request.

Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell supported the delay.

"We could have hearings and hear everybody's wants, desires, complaints, their agendas, what they think - but it always is a better position to have information about what the real figures are, at least as perceived by the mayor and the governor," she said.

Goode said the delay made no sense because Council would reauthorize tax money to fund the schools no matter what information the hearings yielded. He questioned whether it was a move to avert his proposal to increase the district's share of city tax revenue from 58 percent to 60 percent. The proposal would give the district an extra $18 million annually.

Street "does not want to take money out of his five-year plan to put into the schools' five-year plan," Goode said. "I think that's selfish. It's egotistical. It shows he doesn't really care about the education of our children."

Said Vallas: "I don't see any reason for the delay unless you're trying to postpone the presentation until after City Council elections."

Carey Dearnley, a spokeswoman for the School Reform Commission, said it had no problem with the delay.

"It still gives them enough time to go before City Council and hear what they have to say before they vote," she said.