Diaries of a crisis

    There’s a fascinating political drama in the unfolding funding crisis for Philadelphia schools, and it’s worth reading a couple of letters written by players the in the story.

    Consider what’s happened in the last four days:

    After Mayor Nutter spent days urging Council members stand tall and do the right thing – meaning raise taxes – to save all-day kindergarten, School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman pulled the rug out from under the mayor on Friday.

    She declared the District had figured out a way to save kindergarten after all. That made it much harder for Nutter to sell a tax hike to Council, and undercut both his and the School District’s credibility with skeptical Council members.

    And Ackerman apparently gave Nutter an hour’s notice before she dropped that little bomb.

    By Sunday Nutter had struck back. The nine-page letter he wrote the School Reform Commission is an amazing thing to read.

    It demands all kinds of information in the harshest terms – things like “a complete chart showing all dollars paid in salary, bonuses, pension contributions, car allowances or other monetary benefits provided to the Superintendent, any Deputy Superintendent or other department head or manager since that employee’s start date.”

    If that kind of information request had come from a reporter, the recipient would likely conclude the reporter is out to get them.

    The letter had hard deadlines, too: “…by noon on Thursday, June 9 we must have an approved and signed Education Accountability Agreement document….”

    One of the other remarkable things about the letter is that it requests a lot of information about contracts, benefit costs, etc., that you’d expect the administration would already have. It’s almost reads as a “you never tell me anything, and that’s got to change!” tantrum.

    Further required reading is the letter City Councilman Bill Green wrote to Nutter and released to reporters after Nutter’s broadside at the School District.

    Green notes that Council members had been asking many of the questions Nutter was now raising with the District. And he adds this:

    “It is surprising indeed that the Administration had not received the kind of basic information now requested – including, for instance, how the District would spend additional local funding – before it proposed major tax increases and, in conjunction with the District, convened meetings of parents, education advocates, clergy members, affinity groups, and others to press them to lobby City Council to pass such measures.”

    You can read Nutter’s letter here, and Green’s letter here.

    But you should also read the excellent piece by former School District CEO Phil Goldsmith, which appeared in Monday’s Daily News. It makes the simple point that Nutter presented these tax proposals at the 11th hour because nobody wanted to talk about them before the May 17th primary election.

    It’s hardly a leadership moment.

    Goldsmith calls it “the biggest bait-and-switch since former Mayor Frank Rizzo went through his 1975 mayoral campaign boasting about holding the line on taxes, only to impose the largest tax hike in the city to that point.”

    Read Goldsmith’s piece here.

    Oh, and what did the School District have to say about Nutter’s demands? A statement released late yesterday said the district still hopes to get from $75 million to $110 million from the city, and:

    “In the coming days, we will provide Council and Mayor Michael Nutter’s office, in our continued effort to remain transparent through this process, with the information that they’ve requested as they work to determine how they might provide the funding that we so desperately need in order to keep our young people on the path of continued success. We cannot provide our students with the education that they deserve if we do not have the funding that we need in order to do so.”

    Stay tuned. It’s going to be a week to remember.

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