As Council passes schools plan, will Nutter go along?

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHERWhoop, there she is! Whoopi Goldberg leaves Temple University's Mitten Hall yesterday after receiving the Lew Klein Excellence in the Media Award from the university's School of Media and Communication.
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHERWhoop, there she is! Whoopi Goldberg leaves Temple University's Mitten Hall yesterday after receiving the Lew Klein Excellence in the Media Award from the university's School of Media and Communication.
Posted: October 18, 2013

IT WAS A battle of wills - and it's starting to look as if City Council President Darrell Clarke will outlast Mayor Nutter in the standoff over competing plans to produce the $50 million the School District of Philadelphia says it needs to finish the school year.

With Council unanimously approving Clarke's bill to buy $50 million worth of empty school buildings yesterday, the mayor is now considering agreeing to the plan, an administration source told the Daily News.

Another administration source said the mayor's staff will take another look at the buildings that Council says have interested buyers and move forward if there is substantial enough interest.

Nutter had wanted Council to adopt a plan orchestrated by Gov. Corbett in which the city would make permanent a sales-tax increase that expires this year and borrow $50 million for the schools against its future revenue. No Council member even introduced the bill on Nutter's behalf, leaving the mayor with few options.

He could veto the Clarke bill, but there are more than enough votes for an override.

He could ignore the bill - allowing it to become law without his signature and declining to send the $50 million to the school district - and continue to call on Council to take up his plan.

Or he can raise the white flag and agree to let the city buy the empty school buildings. That would avoid the possibility of the city coming up with nothing for the district after pledging last month that the $50 million would be there by the middle of the school year - an even uglier scenario for the mayor than surrendering to Council.

Nutter spokesman Mark McDonald said he knows nothing about what the two sources said regarding Nutter's plan.

"The administration has been in discussion with Council members, and we look forward to continuing that discussion to fulfill the pledge, the joint pledge, of getting $50 million to the School District of Philadelphia," he said.

McDonald added that the administration is continuing to help the school district "to sell its surplus property and get the highest price as quickly as possible."

Nutter and his deputies have criticized the Clarke plan for weeks, pointing out that reselling school buildings has been challenging in other places and that the city would have to pay for their upkeep in the meantime.

Clarke said yesterday that there are 11 "expressions of interest" for the school buildings, although Council has not disclosed who the potential buyers are.

"One of those proposals calls for an office complex that has retail and potentially some housing. Some of them are simply for housing, and actually a couple are for repurposing for schools, for charter schools," he said.

The debate began when Superintendent William Hite in late summer called on the city to produce $50 million in a matter of weeks - the minimum he said required for schools to open regularly in September.

Nutter and Clarke sparred in dueling news conferences with their completing plans and ultimately missed the deadline. But they pledged to find the money eventually and told the district to budget for the year as if the $50 million were a sure thing.


On Twitter: @SeanWalshDN

Blog:ph.ly/PhillyClout

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