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It's been a good week for Phila. schools

William R. Hite Jr. finds himself in an unusual spot. For the last two winters and springs, he has grappled with Philadelphia School District budget holes in the hundreds of millions.

William R. Hite Jr. finds himself in an unusual spot.

For the last two winters and springs, he has grappled with Philadelphia School District budget holes in the hundreds of millions.

Then, on Tuesday, Gov. Wolf said he wanted $159 million more for city schools, and on Thursday, Mayor Nutter proposed giving the school system $105 million in new recurring revenue.

"This is a new place for me," the superintendent said after Nutter's budget address to City Council. "Heretofore, it's been a fill-in-the-hole movement. Every year, there's been a new and different hole."

Nutter, in his final budget, put education front and center, proposing a 9.3 percent property-tax increase to give the schools money to restore cuts and begin to implement Hite's vision.

"Right now, the fact is, our children go to schools where a substandard level of educational supports and services are the status quo," Nutter said. Short-term fixes, he said, aren't enough.

A key to the mayor's proposal - which is far from a done deal - is Hite's "Action Plan 3.0," a blueprint for a district reorganization that would result in more school-based decision-making, including full autonomy for some schools. It would also hand the running of some struggling schools to outside providers.

Nutter called Hite's plan an "innovative redesign of our public schools" that could result in a school like Bartram High hiring back "guidance counselors and nurses, reading specialists, or assistant principals." Other schools, he said, might reestablish art programs, sports teams, and Advanced Placement classes.

If Nutter's proposal for raising property taxes passes, it would be the fifth tax increase related to the schools since 2010. In the last four years, the city has found $340 million in recurring revenue for the district by raising taxes on property, sales, use and occupancy, and cigarettes.

Hite knew his city ask was steep: $103 million on top of the $206 million he called upon the state to provide.

That Nutter not just met the request but exceeded it by $2 million was the most pleasant of surprises, the superintendent said.

"We're elated, ecstatic," Hite said after Nutter's Council presentation.

But Hite is a veteran of two years of battles in Harrisburg and City Hall, and the legislature and Council already have made plain their skepticism about Wolf's and Nutter's proposals.

"A lot needs to happen between now and our ability to spend these moneys," Hite said.

Lori Shorr, Nutter's chief education officer, works closely with Hite, and said she believed the infusions of cash could be transformative.

"It could be the piece that helps them turn the corner," Shorr said. "We've been helping keep them above the water line, but if this and the Wolf plan come through, we could really start to change the conversation in this city."

The old model of K-12 education no longer works, Shorr said, and Hite's plan moves decisions closer to the classroom and selectively taps others to perform functions that a lean central office can and should no longer support.

Shorr knows that Hite's "transformation network" in particular will raise hackles in a district burned by a failed early-2000s experiment that turned over some public schools to companies like the former Edison Schools Inc., a for-profit firm.

"The motivation of what happened back with Edison was really about a belief that the School District couldn't do its job," she said. "What Hite is saying is, 'We can do our job, and part of our job is to put the best people with the best track record in a very specific situation.' "

Regardless of the coming battles over who runs schools and whether Nutter's and Wolf's plans are fully funded, Shorr said, Philadelphia had a good week.

"You can feel hopeful," she said. "If we can all get behind this, we can get things done."

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