Nutter's plan for shuttered schools rubs Council the wrong way

budweiser made in america
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter held a press conference at Philadelphia City Hall to announce details of upcoming Labor Day weekend concert, Budweiser Made In America. Photograph from Tuesday, August 28, 2012. ( ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER )

In a news release Wednesday the Nutter administration announced it will be moving ahead in partnership with the School District on a "more streamlined" plan to sell and repurpose shuttered school buildings.

The announcement, though rubbed some in City Council the wrong way. It comes two weeks after Mayor Nutter and Council president Darrell Clarke offered competing plans to get the district $50 million to ensure schools open on time.

Nutter wants Council to back Gov. Corbett's plan that would allow the city to borrow $50 million from an extension of the city's 1 percent sales tax to give to the schools.

Clarke does not want to borrow the money and instead is pushing a plan to give the schools $50 million up-front in exchange for the vacant school buildings which the city would sell to get its money back.

Some on Council viewed the administration's announcement as an effort to quash Clarke's plan and pressure members into backing Corbett's school rescue plan.

"I don't want to do Corbett's plan. I don't think the Mayor should want to do it," said Councilman Jim Kenney. "[The Mayor] should concentrate on collaborating instead of dictating. We're moving forward with the Council president's plan as is and I don't think [the Mayor] has one vote for his plan."

Mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald noted that Council members would be involved in the process.

Under Clarke's plan, the administration said the city could end up stuck with vacant school buildings that may not sell for years. In the meantime, the city could be forced to pay up to $1.8 million annually for maintenance.

Previously the administration said it had been working with the district to expedite the sale of a handful of the 31 vacant properties, a new policy the School Reform Commission approved last week. Many of the remainder of the properties the administration had said could take years to sell.

The revised process, dubbed the Philadelphia Schools Repurposing Initiative will include a comprehensive analysis of each site, neighborhood and a strategy to engage the community and Council. The city and the district will host public meetings and create a website for ongoing communication throughout the process. The district expects to sell or repurpose up to 31 properties.

Clarke said he was "gratified to hear Mayor Nutter and [Schools] Superintendent [William] Hite are taking concerns about these 31 empty properties seriously. A targeted, aggressive strategy to return these properties to productive use will help the city raise much needed short-term revenue for the School District of Philadelphia."