School District Says Council’s Funding Plan Falls Short

District officials asked lawmakers for $103M. They say they're only getting $45M for now.

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Photo by Jeff Fusco

[Updated] A Philadelphia City Council committee gave a preliminary thumbs-up Wednesday to a package of bills that would raise money for the cash-strapped schools. But school district officials say the proposal falls short of their request for an additional $103 million.

Instead of going with Mayor Michael Nutter’s plan to hike property taxes by 9 percent in order to provide an extra $105 million to the schools, Council members are instead opting to spread out the pain to taxpayers. Their school funding package would increase the property tax by 4.5 percent, raise the parking tax by 12.5 percent, and boost the use-and-occupancy tax by 7.1 percent.

Lawmakers also gave committee-level approval Wednesday to Council President Darrell Clarke’s proposal to expand the city’s ability to sell liens on commercial properties. He says that could bring in as much as $30 million to the schools.

Jane Roh, a spokeswoman for Clarke, issued a press release that said Council’s legislation would “increase the local share of funding for the school district of Philadelphia by up to $100 million.”

But Fernando Gallard, a spokesman for the school district, said that Council has only earmarked an extra $45 million for the schools.

“Did they meet the funding request that we put forward to them? No,” he said. “That’s clear, and that’s something that we would have liked to see.”

Council said the proposed property tax hike would raise $50 million for the schools. But Gallard said that according to the legislation, half of that money would go to the schools and the other half would go to the city, at least initially.

“We do not know yet how that’s going to be transferred over to the district or what strings are going to be attached to that,” said Gallard. “What’s important to the school district are revenues that are recurring and revenues that can grow.”

Roh said the full $50 million in property tax revenues would be provided to the district eventually.

But she added, “City Council has concerns about the district’s apparent attempt to lay off school nurses and replace them with a privatized work force. Council also has concerns about the apparent plan to outsource substitute teachers. Questions to the district about these matters have gone unanswered.”

Further complicating matters is the fact that Council can’t compel the Nutter administration to sell liens. We asked Mark McDonald, Nutter’s spokesman, how likely it is that the city will reap $30 million from lien sales in the coming year. He said, “We’re not going to speculate on Council’s idea.”

“The city has not had any experience with a tax lien sale in 20 years. To gain useful experience and to get taxes owed to the city, we are in the midst of doing a tax lien auction project involving about 1,400 properties. We are not in a position to estimate what might be gained from that project,” he said. “It’s frankly too speculative at this point.”

Also, Gallard said that the district is already expecting to receive $63 million from delinquent tax collections from the city.

“That could mean at the end of the process, there’s going to be no actual gain in revenues for the school district” from lien sales, he said.

Of course, Council members would argue that, lien sales or no lien sales, strings attached or no strings attached, they have stepped up to the plate for the city’s schools in the past few years. And they’d be right:

(That unsourced chart, by the way, comes from Citified’s earlier coverage of Council’s school funding approach.)

The full Council must approve the bills next week in order for them to become law.