Philly mayor, council divided on how to come up with school funds

The school district of Philadelphia has the city’s promise of an additional $50 million to help the struggling schools.

Even though classes are already in session, the mayor and city council have not agreed on how to reach the funding goal.

Mayor Michael Nutter is still pushing for lawmakers in Harrisburg to ratify creation of a city tax on cigarettes.

“That will provide $80 million-plus a year in funding for education,” Nutter said Wednesday.

The mayor also wants City Council to extend a sales tax surcharge that was supposed to expire and dedicate money from it to the schools.

“We’re asking City Council to pass the sales tax extension and that will provide hundreds of millions of dollars over the next few years in education funding,” he said.

City Council has another path to reach $50 million: selling closed school buildings. Council members say they have received inquiries about eight schools that could possibly bring in $106 million if sold at market value.

Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, who represents the 3rd District, says there is real demand for the properties.

“I may have four of five [inquiries] for one school alone. Nobody knows the 3rd District like I do, the school district doesn’t know it,” she said. “I may not know the 4th, I may not know the 8th or the 9th, but I know the 3rd.”

Developers are ready to convert vacant schools into tax generating buildings, according to Council President Darrell Clarke.

“A number of these properties already have preliminary development strategies for these locations,” he said. “These are people, in some cases universities, who have substantive proposals on the table with real development initiatives and I think we can move relatively shortly as long as everyone gets on the same page.”

With everyone on different pages, it appears Nutter’s plan might not even be introduced when City Council returns to session tomorrow.

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