School Superintendent Ackerman pleads for City Hall’s help

At the end of a day that saw school district officials stumble to answer City Council questions about proposed cuts and how much money they sought to bridge substantial budget gaps, Mayor Michael Nutter signaled there were heated negotiations to come.

“Some priorities rise above others: full-day kindergarten, transportation, reduced class size, alternative-education programs,” he said yesterday, referring to the $75 million to $110 million that Superintendent Arlene Ackerman offered Council two hours after not being able to do so. “This is a number I’m prepared to stand behind. I’ve had a number of conversations with Gov. [Tom] Corbett. … He knows I’m going to stand up for education.”

The district’s anticipated $629 million stems from stimulus and state funding cuts. The requested funding and other reductions — in salaries and thousands of staff including 1,200 teachers — were proposed to fill it. There were tense and confusing moments.

District officials couldn’t answer Councilman Wilson Goode Jr.’s “How much money do you want?” question until after she and others met with Nutter. Councilmen Bill Greenlee and James Kenney hammered away at disparities in cuts to certain districts across the region. Councilman Bill Green asked why district officials said they’d rely on local funding during last year’s budget process when it wasn’t known whether it would be available.

“We know our children deserve the best educational opportunities possible if they are to compete in tomorrow’s world,” Ackerman said. “The mayor said he’d support what we asked for.”

Property taxes the answer?

Though Goode said “there is not a political will for a tax hike” on Council, Jannie Blackwell pondered what would happen if it became a necessity.

“You could increase [property] taxes up to 17 percent to get there, but who could be for that?” Blackwell said. “What should taxpayers take out of all this? What council is taking out of this: We don’t know what any of it means yet.”

Follow Brian Hickey on Twitter @MetroBHickey.

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