Bad habits that at first seem amusing become irritating when repeated over and over. Take City Council's patting itself on the back for inadequate responses to the public schools' cash-flow problems.

The latest example is legislation that would allow the School District to sell advertising space on its buildings, recently passed by a Council committee. The idea, which at best might generate $15 million, would produce a pittance compared with the district's budget shortfall, once estimated at $304 million. Council members may argue that it isn't all they're doing to get the schools more money, but their other initiatives only merit an incomplete.

Council wouldn't raise the by-the-drink tax on alcoholic beverages. Harrisburg lawmakers wouldn't go along with Council's approval of a city cigarette tax. And an extension of the city's temporary sales-tax hike is still up in the air.

The state had to be shamed into giving up $45 million in one-time funds for Philadelphia schools, while the city came up with $50 million. Meanwhile, the teachers' union appears adamant in its refusal to give up $103 million in concessions.

Given such a pitiful response to the district's deficit, Philadelphia Education Fund president Darren A. Spielman said he was reluctantly supporting the school advertising idea. "We shouldn't need to do this, but let's go get the money," he said.

The trouble with the ad proposal, championed by Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, is that it takes a reasonable notion - that municipal buildings might provide limited space for outdoor advertising, as suggested by Council President Darrell L. Clarke - and moves the ads into neighborhoods and in front of students.

Brown, who has since said that she is reevaluating the controversial proposal, would leave it to school officials to decide whether to sell ads and whether they won't entertain certain types of pitches - say, for alcohol or cigarettes.

From an educational perspective, it really doesn't matter what ads are sold. Do schools really want in-your-face advertising to serve as one more distraction from schoolwork? It's not as if students aren't already bombarded with commercial messages.

Another legitimate concern, raised by anti-blight activists, is whether the school-ad proposal is just a stalking horse for blowing further holes in the city's already frayed billboard restrictions. They suggest that wall-wrap ads might adorn the districts's vacated buildings - those Clarke wants to sell in a fund-raising scheme - possibly for years.

Such concerns should be a clear sign to Brown and her colleagues that they need to study up on other ways to boost school funding.