PHILADELPHIA The School District of Philadelphia, struggling with yet another fiscal crisis, is redoubling and tweaking an effort to sell much of its stock of empty buildings.
Mayor Nutter and the district on Monday said 20 schools would be listed for immediate sale, including William Penn High School, a prized property on North Broad Street near Temple University.
The announcement came on the day School Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. and School Reform Commission Chairman Bill Green testified before City Council about the district's $216 million shortfall.
Selling school buildings was part of a plan pushed last year by Council President Darrell L. Clarke to raise $61 million toward the district's 2013 budget gap.
Clarke has been critical of the district's efforts to meet that goal. The district approved the sale of eight buildings in March that will net it less than $30 million.
Last year, the district handled the sales, relying on its website. The district listed only seven properties for "expedited sale," while seeking "expressions of interest" on 21 buildings, including William Penn.
This year, sales are being managed by the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. using a new website, www.PHLschoolsales.com. The sales will be conducted without some of the bureaucratic hurdles the district normally requires, district spokesman Fernando Gallard said.
Last year, Clarke wanted the district's entire portfolio turned over to PIDC, a quasi-governmental agency with expertise in the city's real estate market.
Clarke said Monday he was "puzzled" about why the changes had not been made earlier.
"Had the School District and the city moved faster, I believe most if not all of the surplus properties would have been sold by now," he said.
Gallard said many of the buildings "were just not ready to be put up for sale" last year, and the district's plan to measure interest in those properties "got them to where they are now."
He said the PIDC was taking a much larger role this year because the portfolio is bigger, requiring more expertise to complete the transactions. PIDC plans to conduct a series of open houses for potential buyers - two per day from May 19 to June 2.
The PIDC then plans to make recommendations on sales to the district beginning June 9. Offers will be accepted continuously until all the properties have sold.
Gallard said these changes were not made because the district underperformed as its own real estate agent last year.
"We were very successful with the seven properties we put up for sale," he said. "We were very happy with the results."