Nutter and Clarke to School District: Just trust us

Just trust us. We'll get you the money. 

That appears to be the message from Mayor Nutter and Council President Darrell Clarke when it comes to findingthe $50 million the School District says it needs to open schools on time Sept. 9. 

With one day to go before Superintendent William Hite's deadline for city leaders to show the dough, Nutter and Council continue to push divergent plans - both of which may require the other's approval. But both men say the district should plan to open schools as if the $50 million was a sure thing. 

Nutter today proposed that the city borrow the money through a general obligation bond, which needs Council approval and will cost city taxpayers $60 million in borrowing costs. 

"I will not risk a catastrophe," Nutter told reporters in City Hall. "Schools are going to open on time and safely."

Council does not return until after school begins, and Clarke, with a majority of Council standing behind him, said he opposes borrowing as a solution to the funding crisis. 

Instead, Clarke wants the city to buy $50 million worth of surplus property and tax liens from the School District and resell them later. Nutter and his administration have criticized that plan, saying that resale of those properties is no guarantee and that it would strip the district of money it was counting on down the road.

The root of the dispute, however, is a city sales tax increase that was scheduled to expire after this year. The state approved a deal to make the 1 percentage point hike (to 8 percent) permanent and send almost all of the initial revenue to Philly schools.

Nutter is calling on Council to adopt the extension as written, but Clarke wants to split the revenue 50/50 between the schools and the city's beleaguered pension fund. 

Superintendent William Hite said last week that city leaders to come up with $50 million by Friday, or risk a disrupted or cancelled first day of school. 

Hite issued a statement thanking the mayor for pledging to borrow the money this morning, but his spokesman has not returned calls since Clarke announced that Council opposes the borrowing.

The School District this spring said it has a $304 million structural deficit and laid off about 3,900 employees. The $50 million, a bare minimum to have operable schools, will allow the district to rehire about 1,000 people, Hite said.