This week: Council eyes schools' fiscal fitness

Posted: October 30, 2012

HERE'S WHAT will be making news in Philadelphia this week:

CITY HALL

Council considers school closings

Debate over the future of the embattled Philadelphia School District will continue in City Council.

Council's education committee was set to meet Tuesday to discuss a report released over the summer that suggests school closings and other methods to improve the district's finances.

The report proposes closing up to 57 schools and modifying teacher contracts as a way to get the district out of the red. But the findings drew criticism from the teachers union, which has called it a proposal to dismantle the district.

The hearing is set for 10 a.m. in City Council chambers in City Hall. Given the subject matter, there may be a full house, but attendance - and the hearing itself - is contingent on the weather.

DEVELOPMENT

Waterfront buffer for Delaware River

City Council's rules committee will have a public hearing beginning at 10 a.m. Wednesday on a bill that would establish a "stream buffer" for development along the central Delaware River waterfront.

The area extends for about seven miles from Allegheny Avenue on the north to Oregon Avenue to the south and from the Delaware to Interstate 95.

Matt Ruben, chairman of the Central Delaware Advocacy Group, said that the current Master Plan for Central Delaware originally established a 100-foot or 10 percent (of the property) setback. When the city's new zoning code was enacted in December, the 100-foot buffer was cut down to 50 feet.

Ruben said that some developers learned of exceptions to the zoning code for industries like port and dock operations and have lobbied to also be allowed to build closer to the water.

But Maya van Rossun, the Delaware riverkeeper, said that at least a 100-foot stream buffer is needed to protect the quality of drinking water, and to reduce pollution and flooding. Van Rossun said that reducing the buffer "is such a betrayal of the public trust. We should be making decisions based on science and what's best for the community."

Noting that Oct. 31 is Halloween, van Rossun said that she plans to be at the hearing. "All the goblins are coming out."

FEDERAL COURT

Sentence in bogus tax refund scheme

A former mail carrier is to be sentenced Tuesday in connection with a plan to steal more than $1 million in bogus tax-refund checks from the mail in 2011.

Latasha Jackson, of Kingsessing, pleaded guilty in 2011 to conspiracy and theft of mail and testified for the government at the trial of the scheme's mastermind, Janette Perez, in April. Perez was sentenced to five years in prison.

Using stolen identities, Perez filed false tax returns with the IRS, which generated bogus tax-refund checks. Perez then directed the tax-refund checks to be sent to addresses on Jackson's route, and agreed to pay Jackson for each tax-refund check she plucked from the mail before delivery. Only 10 bogus refund checks - amounting to $58,000 - were intercepted by the defendants and later deposited into Perez's business account before authorities discovered the scheme.

- Regina Medina, Catherine Lucey, Valerie Russ & Michael Hinkelman

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