CITY COUNCIL yesterday pushed off a tough decision on whether to raise taxes to provide more cash for the school district.
Still far from a consensus on Mayor Nutter's proposals, including a 10 percent property-tax increase and a 2-cent-per-ounce soda tax, Council questioned the district on how much it actually needs, since state education officials approved the use of federal Title I funds to save full-day kindergarten and officials are close to a deal to delay payment for SEPTA TransPasses for 60,000 high-school students.
The divided body will resume debate next week. Final passage of any decision won't come until at least June 23.
Superintendent Arlene Ackerman yesterday went before Council a second time to plead for funding, putting the price tag at a whopping $102 million for alternative education, yellow-bus transportation, school nurses, reduced class sizes, music and arts programs, and other services.
However, city Finance Director Rob Dubow said the administration is requesting that Council provide $66 million to the district, including $6 million from Nutter's proposed parking-meter rate increase. But he said that number was contingent on the state restoring $57 million in charter-school funding and $23 million in grant funding.
The city is set to provide $815 million in tax revenue and grant funding to the district for the fiscal year that begins July 1, but the district faces a $629 million gap without additional money from the city or state.
"The children of Philadelphia ... need you more than ever," Ackerman told Council. "Any decision will certainly involve controversy."
Ackerman was grilled repeatedly about alternative cuts the district could make to free up money, including cutting Summer Learning and More (SLAM), a 22-day enhanced summer-school program that costs about $24 million.
Ackerman was hoping to create 11 Promise Academies - low-performing schools that get extra district attention - but Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez pointed out that the district could save $19 million if it didn't.
"I'm not asking you to cut; I'm asking you not to add," Quinones-Sanchez said.
Council members say there is no appetite for a property-tax hike.
"The property tax is as dead as Elvis," said Councilman Curtis Jones Jr.
Although hard to swallow, there may be a bit more of an interest in the soda tax. Council pressed Dubow about enforcement of the tax, about loopholes and about whether it would include powdery drinks like Kool-Aid. Dubow said the money generated from the sugary-beverage tax would be collected by the Department of Revenue.
When questioned about the legality of the tax, the possibility of lawsuits and whether that would impede revenue collection, City Solicitor Shelley Smith asserted that the move would be legal.
There remained some interest yesterday in shifting money to the district without tax hikes. Councilman Bill Green proposed a budget amendment that would grant school funding by cutting the city budget and reducing the city's fund balance to provide more money for the district. The Nutter administration has warned that doing so would be a dicey move.