Sunday, September 21, 2014
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Doomsday budget for schools / SRC meeting

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Doomsday budget for schools / SRC meeting

After 100 days on the job, Philadelphia School District superintendent Bill Hite talks with reporter in his office January 2, 2013 ( TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer )
After 100 days on the job, Philadelphia School District superintendent Bill Hite talks with reporter in his office January 2, 2013 ( TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer )

(Scroll down for live-tweet coverage)

6 p.m.

(Update from briefing with superintendent, chief financial officer)

    If the “catastrophic” budget picture Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. laid out Thursday comes to pass, city schools will be virtually unrecognizable come September.

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    A $304 million deficit would mean no money for counselors or librarians.  There would be no sports or extracurricular activities. There would be no funds for secretaries, aides or summer school. Three thousand district employees, including teachers, could be laid off.

This doomsday scenario comes as a result of a $304 million deficit for the district’s 2013-14 budget. Officials have asked for $120 million in additional funding from the state and $60 million from the city, as well as $133 million in concessions from labor unions. But none of that money is guaranteed.

“Too many budgets and contracts in the past were being based on what we had hoped for and not necessarily what was real,” Hite said.  

Laying out the grimmest possible reality is a strategic move, as the district makes its case to Harrisburg and City Hall for more funding, and sits at the negotiating table with its unions, including the 15,000-member Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.

But the $220 million in additional school-based cuts are a very real possibility. Union officials have said they won’t bow to demands for big concessions, and while Mayor Nutter has signaled his support for the district’s ask, early signs from the state are not promising and City Council also seems skeptical.

This year, the district borrowed $300 million just to heat buildings and pay employees.  That’s not an option going forward, Hite and Chief Financial Officer Matthew Stanski said.

“To continue to borrow just continues to put the district on the path to bankruptcy,” said Hite.

Principals will receive their individual school budgets on Friday.  They will receive only enough money to fund a principal and teachers based on the contractual class size maximum, 33 for older grades and 30 for kindergarten through third grade.  

“We can’t afford anything else,” Hite said.  “Schools will not be able to offer everything that’s mandated, both by statute or contract. We’re making a judgment call.”

It’s unclear what the ramifications of flouting contracts and state law might be.

Schools, under this scenario, would still offer services for special education students and English language learners, which are also mandated by law, but those funds will come from the district, not their individual budgets.  There will also still be school police, food services, transportation and school nurses, but fewer nurses - the current ratio is 1 nurse per 1,000 students; it will go up to the maximum of 1 to 1,500.

5:30 p.m.

Prior year's budgets have been tough, but the 2013-14 spending plan is shaping up to be the worst anyone has seen.

We had already heard of a deficit of $304 million, unless the state came forward with $120 million, the city with $60 million, and the district got $133 million in labor concessions.

But according to multiple individuals briefed in the past week, the district has acknowledged it can't build its budget around funds that are not guaranteed, and is ordering everyone to brace for the worst.

What's the worst?  Layoffs - about 3,000, including teachers. Schools that feature no counselors, librarians, aides, extracurriculars, sports (that's none - no Public League, for instance), etc. Many of those things are required either by contract or by state law, but leaders have said that without new revenue, there just isn't money to pay for what's required.

(The district will still pay for a few things that aren't mandated, like full-day kindergarten and school police, but they will further cut nurses, taking the ratio to the legal limit of one nurse per 1,500 students.)

Could it be a game of chicken to shame city, state and union leaders into giving the district what it wants?  Negotiations obviously factor into this.

But Jerry Jordan, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers' president, said this feels very real.

"Clearly, this is a possibility," Jordan said. "Our kids are in the middle."

School district chief financial officer Matthew Stanski will make a budget presentation at tonight's SRC meeting, which will begin shortly.  Check back for many more details.

EARLIER:

Today's a busy, big day for the Philadelphia School District.

First up - budget news.  Think deficit in the hundreds of millions.

Then, School Reform Commission, with a vote on closing M. H. Stanton Elementary in North Philadelphia, possibly starting a virtual academy, and then an official budget hearing.

Stay tuned.

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About this blog

Inquirer reporter Kristen Graham writes the Philly School Files blog, where she covers education in Philadelphia, both in and out of the classroom.

During the school year, you’ll frequently find her hosting live chats about the district on Philly.com.

Please do pass along the scoop about what’s going on at your Philadelphia public school; Kristen welcomes tips, story ideas and witty banter.


Kristen Graham Inquirer Staff Writer
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