Philly to Corbett: We'd like that $45 million now, please

Posted: August 14, 2013

WITH A LOCAL solution to the school district's funding crisis proving elusive, city leaders are calling on Gov. Corbett's administration to release a $45 million grant that could allow schools to open on time next month.

Some Harrisburg Republicans, however, say the release of the grant is contingent on the teachers' union agreeing to concessions, which - if it happens at all - would not take place until later this month. Superintendent William Hite said last week the district needs $50 million by Friday or schools may not open Sept. 9. Hite, however, urged principals at a conference at Fels High School in Crescentville yesterday to prepare for schools to open on time.

A spokesman for state Secretary of Education William Harner, who must approve the release of the state grant, did not return requests for comment yesterday.

The $45 million came from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' decision to forgive the state of interest and penalties from an unrelated debt. The Corbett administration worked the money into the state's Fiscal Code, earmarking it for Philly schools with one condition: Harner must certify that the district has begun "reforms that will provide for the district's fiscal stability, education improvement and operational control."

Philly Democrats and state Republicans disagree as to whether that means the union must make concessions - as the School Reform Commission has requested to the tune of $133 million.

"We were under the impression that for that money [to go to Philly schools], the unions need to make concessions, the unions need to come to the table," said Steve Miskin, spokesman for House Majority Leader Mike Turzai. "That was always everybody's interpretation, at least up here."

But in a letter to Harner yesterday, Mayor Nutter, City Council President Darrell Clarke and others argued that reforms have already begun, pointing to the recent closing of dozens of schools, savings in the district's procurement process and other measures that predate the Fiscal Code deal.

"The District has already begun planning and implementing the very reforms required," they wrote in the letter, also signed by state Rep. Cherelle Parker and Sens. Shirley Kitchen, Anthony Hardy Williams and Vincent Hughes. "With less than one month from the commencement of the school year, the District can no longer wait for the Commonwealth to deliver on its promises."

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan said state lawmakers from Philadelphia told him the $45 million would not be dependent on whether his union makes concessions.

"When I questioned some of the elected officials, they assured me that it had nothing to do with collective bargaining," he said.

Nutter and Clarke - a pair rarely seen behind the same podium - will make their pitch to Corbett at a news event today. But they remain divided on how the city might be able to come up with the money before Sept. 9.

Nutter wants City Council to endorse a state plan that would permanently extend what was supposed to a temporary sales-tax increase (to 8 percent overall) and send a vast majority of the revenue to the schools.

Clarke wants to split that money between the district and the pension fund, and he has proposed a new way to get cash for schools in the meantime: buying closed school buildings from the district now and selling them through the city later.


On Twitter: @SeanWalshDN

Blog: ph.ly/PhillyClout

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