Hite heads to Council to plead district's budget request

TOM GRALISH / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Protesters demonstrate in City Council chambers over budget cuts to Philadelphia public schools, while Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. testifies about the crisis.
TOM GRALISH / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Protesters demonstrate in City Council chambers over budget cuts to Philadelphia public schools, while Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. testifies about the crisis.
Posted: May 01, 2013

THE SCHOOL DISTRICT'S "budget crisis is real" and could result in "cold, harsh scenarios" if it does not receive money from the city, state and its union to help close a $304 million shortfall, district officials told City Council during a budget hearing yesterday.

The district is seeking $60 million from the city, $120 million from the state and $133 million in savings from personnel-contract negotiations from union and nonunion workers - even after accounting for savings from closing 24 schools.

Without the money, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said, schools could be forced to go without assistant principals, administrative assistants, guidance counselors, librarians, music, athletics and extracurricular activities.

"If this budget scenario comes to pass, then the activities that enrich [children's] talents, interests and lives would disappear, and there would be fewer adults to help them navigate their childhood years with an eye toward the future," Hite said.

The request, while expected, comes at a difficult time as the city is shifting to a new property-tax system, the Actual Value Initiative, and follows two years in which the city has helped to bail out the school district.

Council President Darrell Clarke didn't make any guarantees and said the state has to do more.

"I don't know what we'll do. We understand there is a need." Clarke said. "I can personally say without a significant increase in funding from the state, there will be no appetite on the local level."

Clarke asked Pedro Ramos, chairman of the School Reform Commission who was appointed by Gov. Corbett, to arrange a meeting with the governor so members could make the case for more school funding directly. Ramos, who appeared optimistic, said the state has recognized the city's efforts to aid the school district. Meanwhile, other members said the city should help regardless of what the state does.

"It rests with us to do our part," Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown said. "It's a shared duty."

During the past two budget battles, Mayor Nutter proposed raising extra money for schools, but Council thwarted his plans both times. Last year, for instance, Nutter wanted to raise $94 million through the transition to AVI. Instead, Council raised $40 million through increases to the property and use-and-occupancy taxes.

But this year Nutter didn't include a plan to raise money in his proposed budget, and Council has demanded to know why.

Mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald said the administration is working with Council to come up with "a plan of action," adding that Nutter supports increasing the "liquor by the drink" tax from 10 percent to 15 percent, which would provide the district with about $20 million. Sources say elected officials have also discussed increasing the tobacco tax. Both would require state-enabling legislation.


On Twitter: @Jan_Ransom

Blog: ph.ly/PhillyClout

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