Council grills SRC on funding focus

Posted: June 13, 2014

ACCUSING THE SCHOOL DISTRICT of "foot dragging" when it comes to supporting itself financially, City Council members gave school officials a finger-wagging yesterday before voting to lend them a helping hand.

City Council's Committee on Finance approved a Hail Mary $27 million in short-term borrowing for the school district to pay its bills by June 30 - the end of the fiscal year. But that number fell short of what district officials had hoped for, a loan of $55 million - the maximum amount allowed by the quasi-government Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp.

Council members spent much of yesterday's hearing grilling school officials on why they had not sold off more of their surplus real estate to help fill the district's $216 million budget gap.

"Council sometimes feels like the school district really doesn't have to answer to us. But you do want to work with us when it comes funding time," Councilman Mark Squilla said.

"I think we have to build that trust up. We have to do a better job of that because every year when you guys come back, it seems like there was no sense of urgency. The school district and the [School Reform Commission], they really drug their feet on that."

Sophie Bryan, chief of staff to SRC chairman Bill Green, testified that since November the district has been aggressively marketing seven school-district properties. She explained the "tension" between maximizing how quickly one can close a deal on a vacant building and coming up with a reuse that's acceptable to the community.

"Part of the district disposition process, historically, has involved . . . a community-engagement process," Bryan said.

"With the fiscal pressures of this past year, we've certainly shortened that process. But, there are these competing tensions with public buildings. We're not trying to be cute. We're still facing a significant hole next year."

The Nutter administration says Council has the power to grant up to $55 million in borrowing for the school district to keep the current fiscal year's wheels in motion. The grant would have no impact on the city's budget because it would be repaid with proceeds from the extension of the state sales tax, a measure approved last July by the General Assembly.

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