With pressure mounting from education advocates to find new funding for Philadelphia schools, Nutter administration officials made it clear Monday that the city likely would have nothing more to offer.
The only aid will come from a recent state bailout package, no matter how imperfect, Finance Director Rob Dubow said. And Mayor Nutter and Council have work to do even to ensure that that money arrives in time.
"We understand [Council members] have legitimate issues about what came out of Harrisburg, but these are the tools we were given," Dubow said. "We need to use them to make sure the district gets the funding it needs."
School advocates have been calling on the city to take more direct action. Last week, Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez proposed that the city give the School District a one-time $50 million grant.
Helen Gym, a founder of Parents United for Public Education, said a dozen parents lobbied Council members Monday in support of Sánchez's plan.
"There's a lot of reasons why school funding is complicated, but as parents, that's not really the issue," Gym said. "We are 35 days out from school starting, and there is absolutely nothing happening in the schools."
Dubow said giving the schools $50 million would put the city in a serious cash crunch this year and into debt in subsequent years. Because of state requirements on school funding, the city cannot give a onetime grant. If it gives any money, it is required to provide that amount every year.
"It's not like it just eats into our fund balance," he said. "It erases it and would cause deficits."
The district, facing a $304 million deficit this year, laid off more than 3,800 employees on June 30. The district asked the city and the state to find $180 million to fill the gap, with the rest to come from union concessions.
The bailout package hashed out in Harrisburg contains little new state money, but could provide as much as $140 million for the schools.
Late last month, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said the district would use $33 million in savings and new funding to recall laid-off music teachers and school secretaries and restore fall sports programs that had been axed.
But parents are afraid for student safety if more jobs aren't saved and schools open with skeletal staffs.
Dawn Hawkins, a parent leader with Action United, said she worried about her son, Khyrie Brown, 13, who is entering eighth grade at Blaine School in Strawberry Mansion because his previous school, L.P. Hill, closed in June.
"They don't let us know as parents in the community what is going on," Hawkins said, as she prepared to attend a budget briefing with Dubow. "But I know this: They need to get that money and fund our children's education. Point blank."
Dubow said Council needs to quickly back a state plan to use a portion of the city's sales tax to fund the schools. Although money from the sales tax wouldn't flow to the schools until next year, a major portion of the state bailout requires the city to borrow $50 million against that future revenue.
Council President Darrell L. Clarke and other civic leaders had been eyeing the sales-tax revenue to pay down the city's enormous pension liability.
Clarke is pushing a plan to split the sales-tax revenue - about $120 million - between the schools and the underfunded pension system.
The city was allowed to raise its sales tax during the recession, from 7 percent to 8 percent. That 1 percent hike was set to expire next year, but now appears likely to be made permanent for the benefit of the schools, the pension system, or both.
"If we moved on the sales tax, that would give the School District enough assurance to book that money and move ahead," Dubow said. "That is something we can do that is in our local control."
He cautioned against splitting the money with the pension system, unless the state also gives permission to create a $2-a-pack cigarette tax to raise money for the schools. Council passed the cigarette tax unanimously in the spring, but state legislation stalled.
Clarke and Nutter were scheduled to meet Tuesday to discuss education funding.
Clarke's spokeswoman, Jane Roh, said "there should be no doubt that Council will approve a sales-tax extension."
"The Council president's office does not believe the city's ability to borrow $50 million against the extension should be affected - regardless of what the final extension looks like or whether we get tobacco" tax, she said.