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City Council Wants Financial Oversight Before Helping Cash-Strapped School District

By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- The Superintendent of Philadelphia Public Schools, Dr. William Hite, said Friday the district needs more than $200 million extra to stave off a thousand layoffs and other cuts (see related story). City Council President Darrell Clarke says if Council steps up -- the local lawmakers want more oversight of the district's budget.

Council President Clarke has long been unhappy that while Council and city taxpayers are being asked to increase their contribution to the district -- but Council has no clear idea on how the District -- a state agency -- spends its money. So he is insisting that this year, any new give from council includes oversight guarantees.

"The reality is that there's no level of fiscal oversight on behalf of the City Council of Philadelphia, and I think that needs to be changed," Clarke says. "I'd like to see some component -- as part of whatever deal we reach and whatever consensus we have -- that will allow that. And I will insist that the local elected officials, i.e. the city council of Philadelphia, and the (state) House and Senate delegation, have a more significant role as it relates to being able to oversee some of the fiscal operations of the school district."

As to how the new district deficit will be solved, all Clarke will say at this point is that he has been involved in weeks of private talks -- trying to find a consensus.

"We have been talking on a consistent basis over the past several months outside of the spotlight," says Clarke. "Because it's difficult to achieve some level of consensus on something this critical, something this controversial, in a very public way. It's just a simple reality of how business is done."

A key stumbling block is whether Council will go along with the state's plan to earmark sales tax money for the district. Clarke wants half of those monies to be used for the city workers pension fund.

Clarke and Mayor Michael Nutter want to state lawmakers to approve a $2 a-pack tax on cigarettes sold in the city, with all those revenues earmarked for the schools. Harrisburg, so far, has not jumped on that idea.

Hite on Friday said without an extra $216 million in the coming year, he would be forced to lay off 1,000 workers, mostly teachers -- which would push class size to 40 students per teacher.

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