Philadelphia City Council grills school officials pleading for more money

Those in charge of the Philadelphia public schools got grilled today while asking City Council for more money. 

“We need to stabilize this district now, or we will all be sorry later,” said School Reform Commission chairman Pedro Ramos, trying to persuade City Council to approve Mayor Nutter’s Actual Value Initiative. The citywide property re-assessment would give the schools $94 million more but still leave it with a $200 million budget gap.

Chief Academic Officer Penny Nixon says the money is critical for the long-term survival of the schools.

“We still do not have enough nurses counselors librarians, arts and music programs sports or support staff and I can continue. Indeed we lack the appropriate funding to give children the education that they deserve,” said Nixon.

Councilman Curtis Jones told the school representatives he’s heard the call for money before.

“Under Connie Clayton it was in 83 Children Achieving, under David Hornbeck his theme was fair funding, and under Arlene Ackerman, it was Imagine [2014].  I’m looking at you guys and hoping that your theme will be lets get it right this time,” said Jones.

Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell complained about plans to save millions by closing 60 schools over the next five years.  But those plans won’t be fleshed out until later. 

“How can you insure communities that these closed schools won’t add to the neighborhood blight and why is the district waiting until the summer when we are not in session and many families are away and their attentions focused elsewhere to announce the list of schools to be closed,” asked Blackwell.

Ramos was pressed by Councilman Bill Green if the money from re-assessments will improve the schools.

“The $94 million that you started with per year,” started Green. “What it does under the current structure is maintain the status quo,” finished Ramos.

Councilman Dennis O’Brien says he’s upset about the district overhaul coming with with the cutbacks.

“If you want to change the academic conversation then I can buy into that, but I’m not hearing a vision for kids into the future and all I’m hearing a deficit conversation where all I’m hearing is what we can’t do,” said O’Brien.

Council is not committing to approving the additional revenue.  Many are skeptical and some reluctant to vote for re-assessments that they see as another property tax hike.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.