Time is on Nutter's side to work out schools' cash crisis

Posted: August 19, 2013

The day after schools Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said he had enough assurances of city funding to start classes on time this fall, Mayor Nutter said he and City Council now have "more than a few months" to work out their differences on how to supply the necessary money.

Nutter wants to borrow the money, while Council President Darrell L. Clarke said he and his colleagues favor a plan to give the district cash in exchange for a portfolio of closed schools that can be sold.

Both men pledged Thursday that their plans would supply the School District of Philadelphia with the $50 million Hite said he needed in order to open schools on Sept. 9.

The actual money doesn't need to arrive for months, giving Nutter and the Council, which doesn't return from its summer recess until Sept. 12, time to work out a political solution.

"We don't have to solve this problem today, we don't have to solve it tomorrow," Nutter said Friday in a joint meeting with The Inquirer and Daily News editorial boards. "We certainly have some time to work through this challenge."

Either plan would require legislation, which under city rules would take the Council a minimum of two weeks to accomplish.

"I know it's hard to resist the ping-pong match," Nutter said. "But we've taken on greater challenges, quite frankly, and ultimately figured out an appropriate solution."

Clarke's idea, however, clashes with a plan the Nutter administration and Hite's staff have been developing for months to sell or find new uses for 31 shuttered district buildings.

The administration said five properties could be sold quickly, starting in September, while 18 would "require aggressive marketing and civic engagement" to find a buyer. Eight buildings likely will sit empty for years.

The small list of "star" properties reportedly includes the just-closed University City High School, in a booming area bounded by Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania.

"The rest of the properties are in weak markets or questionable markets without clear buyers, without clear re-uses," said Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger, who has been closely involved with the plan.

Clarke said Council members have found a far more robust market for the old school buildings in their districts.

Contact staff writer Troy Graham at 215-854-2730 or tgraham@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @troyjgraham.

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