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Philly schools, City Council sign agreement to promote transparency

Both sides said the agreement should reduce tension and pave the way for the district to receive $25 million from the city.

OFFICIALS FROM the School District of Philadelphia and City Council yesterday signed an agreement intended to provide lawmakers with greater fiscal oversight and pave the way for the district to receive $25 million approved by Council over the summer.

The pact requires the district to provide Council with quarterly reports on its finances and hiring, which will be made public on the district's website, and meet with Council members to answer questions about the reports or other issues in the district.

Also as part of the deal, Council will have input on the district's five-year financial plan and its chief financial officer will meet regularly with the district's CFO to discuss the fiscal condition of the school system.

The parties announced the agreement during a joint news conference at the district's headquarters. In contrast to the often-tense budget hearings in City Hall the past few years, leaders from the district and Council yesterday sat at a table, laughing and smiling about their new accord.

Council President Darrell Clarke called the agreement "a document that will not only get a consensus, but it will actually require that we see each other a whole lot, and in some cases maybe more than we would actually like to."

He added that it was important to put the agreement in writing because, despite past conversations, there had been a lack of cooperation from the district.

Clarke was joined by several members of Council, including Jannie Blackwell and Blondell Reynolds Brown, both of whom serve on the legislative body's education committee.

The pact was signed by Clarke, Blackwell, Superintendent William Hite and School Reform Commission Chairwoman Marjorie Neff. It runs through June 30, 2017.

The agreement removes the biggest obstacle to the district's receiving the remaining $25 million of the $70 million in new funding approved by Council over the summer. Council will have a formal hearing next week and must approve a transfer of the money.

Hite said it was important to provide the detailed information to Council, which must OK funding for a huge chunk of the district's budget.

"These are quite frankly reports we should be producing anyway, and particularly for funding bodies like City Council," he said.

The district's budget already includes the money from Council, and officials said yesterday that those funds would not make up for the absence of state funding from the long-overdue budget in Harrisburg. Hite reiterated that if the state does not come through with a budget by month's end, the district could face a fiscal cliff.

"We're nervous now, just to put it out there," he said.