Nutter, Clarke disagree but tell schools to open anyway
JUST TRUST us. We'll get you the money.
That appears to be the plan from Mayor Nutter and Council President Darrell Clarke when it comes to finding the $50 million the Philadelphia 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 that require each other's approval. But both men say the district should plan to open schools as if the $50 million were a sure thing, and schools officials now say that's good enough.
"Both have said that they're committed to the $50 million, and that's important," School Reform Commission chairman Pedro Ramos said. "They understand the consequences of that. . . . They are in the best position to resolve their differences. We're not trying to resolve their differences." Given the promises, Hite said the district will now begin the process of rehiring 1,000 of the 3,900 employees it laid off at the end of the school year after announcing it had a $304 million annual deficit and needed money from the city and state, as well as major labor concessions.
The state and union so far have balked on their requests. City officials have pledged support for the schools but have struggled to reach agreements or get state approval for their plans.
After a week of failed negotiations with City Council on how to find the $50 million, Nutter yesterday proposed that the city borrow the money through a general-obligation bond, which needs Council approval and would cost city taxpayers $60 million over four years.
"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 in time for the start of school, and Clarke, with a majority of Council standing behind him, said yesterday that 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.
"There's a way of fixing the short-term solution without borrowing," Clarke said yesterday.
Nutter has criticized Clarke's plan, saying that reselling those properties is a difficult process that would strip the district of money it was counting on down the road. Despite Council's resistance, Nutter spokesman Mark McDonald said the administration will prepare the $50 million bond and wait for approval.
Pressed on whether he and Nutter need to be on the same page to guarantee the money, Clarke said presenting a proposal that has Council's support should be enough.
"We weren't asked to give a $50 million check. We were asked for a signal that Council will provide for a plan that will give them $50 million," Clarke said of Hite's request. "The schools will open."
The root of the dispute is a city sales-tax increase that was scheduled to expire after this year. The state in June 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 has been 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.
Nutter said that he also supports a more even split but that the city must use the tools made available by the state. He added that the state plan would provide $400 million in pension funding over 10 years, although much of that money comes down the road, when sales-tax revenue is expected to grow.
Hite said last week that city leaders must come up with $50 million by today, or risk a disrupted or canceled first day of school.
"Today we have a commitment that they're going to find a way to get $50 million to the school district," Hite said. "That's a very different place than when this process began."
The School Reform Commission asked for $60 million from the city, $120 million from the state and $133 million in labor savings.
- Staff writer Regina Medina
contributed to this report.
On Twitter: @SeanWalshDN