Committee of Seventy: Council, Mayor need new school funding plan

CAPTION -- Zack Stalberg, President &CEO, Committee of Seventy, is speaking during the press conference. ( AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer ) Editors Note -- 08/15/2012 Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition is holding a press conference at the Local 1199C headquarters in Center City on Aug. 15, 2012.

Good government group Committee of Seventy is calling on City Council and Mayor Nutter to return to the drawing board this summer to come up with guaranteed funding streams to help the struggling school district.

"City government has a choice: sit tight and wait for the state to act on the cigarette tax, which it may not ever do, or step up and ensure funds for the schools right now," said Committee of Seventy president Zack Stalberg. "Every day that goes by without resolving this nightmare is one more day of chaos and uncertainty about the state of the schools when they open on September 9."

At this point the city's only contribution to the school district is $28 million that Nutter promised to get in tax collections. The city had hoped it would have been able to enact a new $2 per pack tax on cigarettes to get Philly schools an extra $46 million, but the Republican-run legislature opted against passing enabling legislation. The city's only other option at this point would be to transfer money to the schools in the fall.

And that leaves Gov. Corbett's plan which counts on the city's increased collections from tax deadbeats, $15 million in new state money, $45 million under an agreement with Washington and $50 million which will be borrowed against an extension of the 1 percent sales tax.

Stalberg said if the city lawmakers were to hold a summer session it would send a message to Harrisburg that City Hall "is doing its part." He added the basic solution would be for the city to make budget cuts, noting a 2 percent spending reduction would yield $76 million and a 1 percent cut would produce $38 million.

"Nothing could be more important to the legacy of this mayor, this Council and this Council president than doing as much as they possibly can to fix the schools," Stalberg said.