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How will Mayor Nutter fulfill his vow to rescue schools?

On Tuesday, Mayor Nutter promised to write the School District of Philadelphia a check for $75 million to $110 million, and now he has to come up with the money.

On Tuesday, Mayor Nutter promised to write the School District of Philadelphia a check for $75 million to $110 million, and now he has to come up with the money.

The mayor seems unwilling to do so by cutting city services, and he's dealing with a City Council that, so far, has expressed nothing but suspicion and disdain for raising taxes.

So, is the mayor's pledge doomed to join his other proposals - the soda tax, pension reform, closing libraries - that have suffered death at the hands of Council?

"It is a test of mayoral leadership, and I believe he's up to the job," former Gov. Mark Schweiker said. "This is a mayor who's finding his stride, and he can push this across the proverbial goal line."

Schweiker said he had seen a vigorous mayor "with his chest out," coming off a convincing primary-election victory last week - even if he defeated a weak opponent.

But on Wednesday, the day after Schools Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman asked for the city's help in closing an enormous budget gap, there was little indication of the mayor's plan for fulfilling his promise.

"We have no idea what he intends on doing now," Councilman Wilson Goode Jr. said. "There are a plethora of options, and we'll pursue every option we have."

But, Goode added, "we're not looking at a tax increase as an option right now."

Several other Council members, including Council President Anna C. Verna and education chair Jannie Blackwell, also said there was little appetite for raising taxes.

A solution will have to come quickly - the city has to pass a budget by the end of June or face stiff consequences.

"At this point, it's a very difficult ask at the eleventh hour to ask us to raise more than $100 million in revenue," Majority Whip Darrell L. Clarke said.

Brett Mandel, a civic activist and former candidate for city controller, predicted Nutter would get what he wanted from Council.

"The mayor has nicely pushed them into a corner and given them little choice," he said. "Make no mistake, this was the intention all along."

He said no Council member would want to be seen as voting against the needs of schoolchildren, and with budget deadlines looming, action has to be taken quickly.

"The mayor lied to us when he put forth his budget. He knew this was coming," Mandel said. "It's one thing to have a robust debate. Then we could have arrived at this point in a way that involved the public."

Ackerman and her team briefed Council members Monday on the district's $629 million budget shortfall, asking in private for $50 million to $55 million from a shift in the millage rate, which determines how property taxes are split between the city and schools.

On Tuesday, testifying in public, school officials described severe cuts to all-day kindergarten and transportation services - yellow school buses and subsidized public transit for students.

But they did not ask for a specific amount until Goode pressed for a figure. Then, during a lunchtime meeting with Nutter, Ackerman emerged with a new and presumably final "ask" of $75 million to $110 million.

A few hours later, Nutter called that "a number I'm prepared to stand behind."

"This is not going to be easy, but it is a problem and a challenge worth fighting for," he said. "Every now and then in this business, you just have to stand up and do the right thing."

In the lunchtime meeting, Nutter showed no interest in the millage shift, Blackwell said. Goode and other Council members have said they would support a millage shift, which has no impact on taxpayers, but which would require cuts in the city budget.

Nutter spokesman Mark McDonald said Wednesday "a millage shift would be devastating to most city departments."

He described Council's no-new-taxes position as a first reaction to the district's budget woes and framed the necessity of restoring school funding in broad terms of economic development and public safety.

"This is about having a workforce in this city for years to come that is sufficiently schooled to hold good-paying jobs," he said. "This is all about the standard of living in this city. . . . It's really pretty fundamental."

Increased city revenue is just one avenue that schools officials are pursuing to close the $629 million gap for the next fiscal year. They also are counting on the state to restore a large portion of funding, and they are looking for concessions from the teachers' union.

The state budget deadline is the end of June, and Council and the administration are watching Harrisburg to see what happens.

"I would like to get a sense realistically of what the state can contribute . . . before we look at again dipping into the pockets of the residents of Philadelphia," Clarke said.

State Sen. Anthony Williams said Nutter's strong stand should help the cause in the Capitol.

"I think it makes it more realistic, not easier," he said. "If we're not carrying some of our water, how can we expect Harrisburg to carry any of it?"

Nutter said his priorities were to fund full-day kindergarten, transportation, reduced class sizes, and alternative schools.

"I stand with the children of Philadelphia," he said. "You cannot have a great education system if we do not have support for these items."

If Nutter does propose a tax increase, many Council members expect it to be in the form of raising the school portion of the property tax.

Though raising taxes is never popular, Mandel and Williams noted, six of the 17 Council members would be leaving in January and wouldn't face political consequences.

"I think Council needs to support the mayor on this," said Pastor Terrence D. Griffith, political action chair of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity. "If they have to raise the taxes a little for education in Philadelphia, I'm willing to do my part."

As Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez headed into the school hearing Wednesday, she indicated that public pressure could move Council members to find the funding for schools.

"Nobody even wants to touch it, except me, of course," she said. "We'll see after these people beat us up for eight hours if they change their minds."