$25 Million for City Schools, Suddenly in Doubt?

City Council holds the funds, and Darrell Clarke is not happy with the district.

School District of Philadelphia

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Last spring, which feels like eons ago, City Council grudgingly agreed to increase funding to the School District of Philadelphia by $70 million. That was $30 million short of what the district was asking for, but $70 million really is a big round number, and it took a bevy of tax hikes — including a 4.5 percent hike in the property tax rate — to raise the funds.

City Council was grouchy in the extreme about coming up with that $70 million. So grouchy that it opted to hold onto $25 million of the $70 million — to be released to the district only when and if Council decided to do so.

Well, the school year hasn’t even begun, and Council President Darrell L. Clarke already has some real problems with what the district is doing; specifically Superintendent Bill Hite’s spending of $1 million on big new promotions and hires for central office administrators.

Kristen Graham reports for the Inquirer that Clarke recently sent Hite a letter questioning those decisions. Writes Graham:

… Recently, and in private, Council President Darrell L. Clarke launched another salvo at Hite, ordering more information on a recent series of administrative hires the superintendent has made, and reminding him that $25 million of the district’s money has strings attached – with final approval still to come from Council

… the council president was firm in the Aug. 6 letter: before anyone signs off on the final $25 million “it will be essential that Council have a clear understanding of the school district’s educational focus and financial spending plan at that time.”

In his response, Hite told Clarke that he was filling “critical vacancies.” Clarke, according to the report, was not impressed by that answer.

Will Council withhold the funds? It’s hard to imagine a scenario where that might actually happen. The blowback would be … huge.

But Clarke’s letter does send a message that Council isn’t going to leave the District alone until budget season. And that’s something new.