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Nutter calls for Council action this week on schools funding

 City Council President Darrell Clarke says it is the primary responsibility of City Council to raise the money needed for the school district. (Nathaniel Hamilton/for NewsWorks, file)

City Council President Darrell Clarke says it is the primary responsibility of City Council to raise the money needed for the school district. (Nathaniel Hamilton/for NewsWorks, file)

Philadelphia’s cash-strapped school district began mailing out layoff notices to nearly 3,800 employees last week. On Monday, Mayor Michael Nutter again called on City Council and state lawmakers to take action in order to reverse the layoffs.

Nutter wants Council to pass legislation that would raise $67 million for the schools through taxes on liquor and cigarettes. He is also vowing to send $28 million to the district by improving the city’s tax collections.

Without the extra funding, Nutter said, the schools that open in September would hardly be schools at all, lacking assistant principals, guidance counselors and extracurricular activities.

“All of that can be prevented, certainly, by the actions of responsible adults,” he said.

School district officials are asking for $60 million from the city, $120 million from the state, and $133 million in labor union givebacks in order to close a $304 budget shortfall next fiscal year.

A Council committee has given the preliminary OK to Nutter’s cigarette tax proposal. But legislation to hike the liquor-by-the-drink tax has stalled. Nutter wants a Council committee to approve that this week, so Council can pass it by June 20.

Council’s drop-dead deadline to finalize a budget is June 30.

Council President Darrell Clarke said lawmakers are prepared to move forward on legislation that would somehow raise an extra $60 million for the district. 

“I think that’s our primary responsibility,” Clarke said. “Not necessarily where it comes from.”

Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez has proposed another way. She wants to hike the use-and-occupancy tax, a levy on commercial property owners, in order to generate about $30 million more for the school district.

Nutter’s tax plan also requires state legislation, which is in no way guaranteed.

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