Monday, March 2, 2015

Layoffs, bigger classes, if no new $ for schools

Philadelphia School District officials introduced their 2014-15 budget Friday morning, and it was just as grim as promised. It projects operating revenues of $2.5 billion and expenditures of $2.8 billion.

Layoffs, bigger classes, if no new $ for schools

Taryn Flaherty holds a sign urging funds for school while in a jammed room for an Aug. 2013 news conference. The school district´s budget, released this morning, indicates the district needs millions in new money just to maintain current services for the next school year and that more layoffs are likely if that money doesn´t come. ( CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer )
Taryn Flaherty holds a sign urging funds for school while in a jammed room for an Aug. 2013 news conference. The school district's budget, released this morning, indicates the district needs millions in new money just to maintain current services for the next school year and that more layoffs are likely if that money doesn't come. ( CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer )

Philadelphia School District officials introduced their 2014-15 budget Friday morning, and it was just as grim as promised. It projects operating revenues of $2.5 billion and expenditures of $2.8 billion.

The school system needs $440 million in new city and state money to provide just a few more services than they currently do. To maintain the current level of funding, which does not allow for counselors or nurses in every school or adequate supplies, the district needs a total of $216.2 million in new money.

And if it doesn't get the funds? Officials said there was hardly anywhere to cut but where it hurts most.

Cuts to schools and administrative supports would result and would "cripple a system already depleted from years of expenditure reductions, including over $140 million in FY14 alone."

If the city, state and labor unions do not come up with at least the $216 million, class sizes would increase to 37, 40 in middle grades and 41 in high schools. There would be 1,000 staff layoffs, and cuts including but not limited to "reductions in special education, nurses, school police, alternative education, transportation, facilities and administrative supports."

"The cuts will impact the students who are at the highest risk of dropping out, who face the greatest hurdles to opportunity, and for whom an additional investment of time and resources could make the greatest difference," the district said in its budget in brief document.

It said there was a "collective social responsibility for making high-quality public education available for all students."

If the district's funders go beyond the $216 million ask and approach the $440 million number, that buys the district a little breathing room. The additional money, officials said, would fund early literacy programs, one counselor for every school, extracurricular activities, additional Advanced Placement and SAT prep courses, more support for teachers, and more money to repair the district's aging buildings, many of which are in bad repair.

Over the past decade, the district has lost tens of thousands of students - some deliberately, by giving schools to charters - and struggled to keep up as its numbers have shifted. There are now 86 charter schools in the city, enrolling over 60,000 children. Payments to charters - $767 million in the 2015 budget - represent 31 percent of the total spending plan. Four years ago, charter payments were about 18 percent of the budget.

Retirement benefits and medical costs have also hit the district, and many others around the country, hard. Philadelphia schools also pay a high price for debt service. The district will spend a whopping $280 million on debt service in 2015 - 11 percent of its budget.

 

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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