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What's the best way to solve the school district's budget deficit?

City Council members are flanked by photos of empty school buildings the city may buy. Credit: Rikard Larma/METRO City Council members are flanked by photos of empty school buildings the city may buy. Credit: Rikard Larma/METRO

The elephant didn't flee Council chambers when the legislative body broke for summer recess, and it will be waiting for the 17 city council members tomorrow when they return to the room.

How does a cash-strapped city fund its cash-strapped schools?

The powers that be are still undecided.

Yesterday, both Mayor Michael Nutter and Council President Darrell Clarke discussed plans to raise the needed $50 million to close the school district's gaping budget hole, but which plan the city will adopt remains a mystery.

Clarke, in a press conference yesterday, said his plan will be introduced at today's council meeting. He wants to buy the 24 closed school buildings from the district for $50 million and sell them off. After the city gets back its $50 million, the remainder will be sent to the district.

Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. said eight of the properties have already garnered significant interest and could sell collectively for more than $100 million.

Mayor Michael Nutter, on the other hand, wants to take Gov. Tom Corbett's approach and use the sales tax extension.

The sales tax, currently at 2 percent, was slated to drop to 1 percent at the end of the year. Corbett though said he would allow the city to retain the 2 percent, and the excess funds would be directed toward the schools.

In the past, Clarke and other council members have expressed an interest in directing half of the extra cash flow to fund city employee pensions and direct the other half to schools.

Clarke, however, would not say whether the Nutter/Corbett plan would be introduced on the Council floor.

Nutter said yesterday that splitting the tax revenue would require state legislation that he said could cause trouble.

In the strong-mayor form of government, the mayor can suggest legislation, but it must be introduced by a City Council member.

Hopefully the elephant brought a book.

 
 
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