IN A SHOW of solidarity, dignitaries gathered at City Hall yesterday to celebrate what they described as an "unprecedented" coming together of city, state and school officials to oversee district finances.
And all it took to get them into the same room and on the same page was a $629 million deficit, plans for massive cuts, proposals for tax hikes and the public embarrassment of the mayor.
But indeed they did, and all those involved say they look forward to begin working under the "Education Accountability Agreement."
"This agreement represents a new beginning, a new way of working together," Superintendent Arlene Ackerman said.
Mayor Nutter demanded the agreement on Sunday night after he was left in the dark until the last minute about Ackerman's move to save full-day kindergarten. That was after Nutter went out on a limb to propose tax hikes to fulfill Ackerman's request for up to an extra $110 million.
Nutter sent the district a nine-page letter Sunday demanding that it provide more information about contracts, salaries, benefits and other matters.
The agreement, signed by Nutter, School Reform Commission Chairman Robert Archie and state Education Secretary Ron Tomalis, cements what officials say will be a free flow of information and coordination among the three entities, but doesn't guarantee more money. The district also agreed to begin five-year budget plans.
"[But] there's no expectation on either side that just having the agreement itself will guarantee funding," Nutter said.
Meanwhile, City Council is no closer to reaching a consensus on Nutter's plans.
Nutter called for a 10 percent property-tax increase, a soda tax and parking-meter rate hikes to help bail out the district. A Council hearing on the proposals is scheduled for 10 a.m. today.
According to data released yesterday, by the end of the fiscal year, the district would assume $60 million in revenues from the 2 cents-per-ounce soda tax if it went into effect Oct. 1. The property-tax hike would rake in $95 million, and the district would get $6.1 million from the parking-meter rate increase.
Depending on the combination of additional revenues raised by Council and provided by the state, the district predicts it could restore a variety of slashed services, like reduced class sizes.
Council members have been turned off recently by the district's lack of transparency in providing information about reform programs and other matters, and have been unable to reach consensus on whether to increase taxes to give extra money to the district. But there seems to be slightly more interest in the soda tax proposal at this point.
"I think there's no appetite for property tax," said Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown. "On the soda tax, because it is about education, I think [support] has grown from where it was before."
In a meeting with some Council members earlier yesterday, Ackerman shed light on the district's priorities.
"It is comforting that we're beginning to have the real dialogue to get down to the real numbers, so that we can make real decisions about how we fund our priorities," said Councilman Curtis Jones Jr.