Advocates demand solution to school budget woes

File photo: Helen Gym, founder of Parents United for Public Education, speaks at a rally outside the School District of Philadelphia, attended by American Federation of Teachers union members, teachers, supporters and students. (Sarah J. Glover / Staff Photographer)

Advocates rallied outside of City Hall Tuesday afternoon calling on local elected officials to come up with new ways to fund the School District before the first day of classes in September.

"They promised us they would," said Helen Gym, with Parents United for Public Education. She was joined by at least 30 others at the protest organized by the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools. "[Nutter] could allocate money for this situation. Something's gotta happen."

But mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald said that before there can be discussions on new funding, the city must "see the School District's current plan to fruition," noting negotiations with its unions must happen.

The District which is trying to close a $304 million budget hole is seeking $133 million from its unions, $60 million from the city and $120 million from the state.

So far, schools are set to get $28 million in increased tax collections, $50 million to be borrowed against an extension of the 1 percent sales tax, $45 million in money that had been owed to the federal government and $15.9 million in state funds --a majority of which the district already included in its budget. A plan to enact a $2 per pack tax on cigarettes which would have generated $46 million for schools failed to get state enabling legislation. State Sen. Anthony Williams said he will try his luck again at getting enabling legislation approved in the fall.

"We want to hear what the city is going to do," said Gym.

City Council president Darrell Clarke said the City Charter does not allow Council to enact taxes or increase the budget after the budget deadline has passed.