CITY COUNCIL yesterday paved the way for Philadelphia's public schools to get millions more in new funding for next year, but far less than what had been requested by school officials - who weren't even clear on just how much money they'd be receiving.
That lack of communication at a critical time in the school-funding process appeared to sum up the tattered relationship between Council President Darrell Clarke and Schools Superintendent William Hite.
After two Council committees had completed their meetings, Clarke told reporters the bills that won preliminary approval would send $70 million to the school district, while an additional $30 million could be generated from the sale of tax liens.
Hite and his aides - who attended yesterday's meeting at City Hall - said they could only account for $45 million being generated from the legislation for schools and were fuzzy about whether an additional $25 million approved for Council's budget would be sent to the school district.
"Today, we don't know where that is going or the purpose of it or if there will be any criteria associated with it," Hite said of the $25 million.
"We do know that there is an increase in the City Council's budget of $25 million. That, [plus the $45 million] to me, equals the $70 [million]. But I have no idea the mechanism that moves that $25 million from the City Council's budget to the school district," he said.
Council has scheduled a final vote on the school-funding bills, as well as Mayor Nutter's 2016 fiscal year $4 billion operating budget and the city's six-year, $8.96 billion capital program budget, for June 18. That's the final day before the legislative body goes on summer break.
Hite had asked Council for $103 million to help close an $85 million budget deficit and to fund educational enhancements. (School officials are also hoping to get an additional $159 million from Gov. Wolf's budget.)
A supportive Mayor Nutter in March asked Council to raise property taxes 9.3 percent to generate $105 million to more than cover Hite's request.
The funding that was approved yesterday will not "adequately and sufficiently educate children," said Hite, who added that he had no fat left in his budget to cut.
When asked why Council failed to provide even enough money to cover the schools' deficit, Clarke said: "I'm not going to be drawn into a tit-for-tat with Dr. Hite. We, again, have stepped to the plate, unlike any other stakeholder in this, and provided revenue for the school district.
"We've laid out what we believe to be a balanced plan. Some would say we're spreading the pain, but the simple reality is that, we don't think it's fair to go back to the taxpayers as it relates to real estate," Clarke added.
In addition to the $30 million that would come from the sale of commercial tax liens, Clarke said, $50 million in new school funding would come from a 4.5 percent property-tax increase, $10 million from a 7.1 percent increase in the use-and-occupancy tax levied on commercial property and $10 million from increasing the off-street parking tax from 20 percent to 22.5 percent.
School officials noted that two real estate property-tax bills were approved, each worth $25 million, but only one was earmarked for the schools. Funds from the other would have to be transferred after the summer, they said.
When asked about this, Jane Roh, Clarke's spokeswoman, said revenue budgeted by Council for the schools will be given to them.
But she added: "City Council has concerns about the district's apparent attempt to lay off school nurses and replace them with a privatized workforce. Council also has concerns about the apparent plan to outsource substitute teachers. Questions to the district about these matters have gone unanswered, and Council looks forward to continuing this discussion with the district."
Susan Gobreski, a Mount Airy mother of three daughters enrolled at the school district's elite Masterman School, had urged Council before the vote to approve $105 million for schools.
"I want to make sure that there are not strings attached to the money that they're planning to give the district," she said afterward. "We're still short. That means, the district is going to have to spend time figuring out what to do with insufficient funding instead of time on academics."
Joe Grace, public policy director for the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, said Council's bills represented "shared sacrifice" by residential and business taxpayers, which the chamber supports.
Mark McDonald, Nutter's spokesman, said: "What City Council did is provide necessary funding, but it's not sufficient. That's why the focus has to be on Harrisburg to adopt a full and fair funding formula."