SRC adopts $2.8 billion budget, but with a caveat

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Marjorie Neff: Fiscal woes are “new normal." (TOM GRALISH/Staff Photographer)

THE SCHOOL REFORM Commission last night unanimously adopted a $2.8 billion budget for Philadelphia public schools that relies on more than $100 million in new but unlikely state funding.

The district's budget includes $159 million in additional dollars proposed by Gov. Wolf, andneeds a minimum of $18 million from Harrisburg to close a projected deficit and avoid any further cuts.

Although officials said they hope for the full amount to begin making new investments in the cash-strapped schools, the budget contains a clause that prohibits spending any additional money until the state budget is approved.

"We have plans to spend it, we're looking forward to it, we believe our schools desperately need it, but until that budget is adopted - whether it be July, August, September, whenever it is - there's no authorization for us to spend it," Chief Financial Officer Matthew Stanski said.

SRC chairwoman Marjorie Neff said she is disappointed schools would again likely have insufficient resources, which she described as the "new normal."

"Unless we have a substantial increase in funding from the state this year, we'll be there again," she said. Neff urged advocates to keep pressure on state lawmakers for more funding.

"Our children deserve more than the limited resources we've had year after year."

District officials are keeping a close eye on Harrisburg for the adoption of the state budget. The Republican-controlled Senate yesterday approved a spending plan that contains little new money for education. The GOP budget will go to Wolf, who has signaled that he would veto it.

Wolf's proposal included nearly $1 billion more for Pennsylvania schools by imposing a tax on natural gas drilling and raising the sales and personal income taxes.

The district originally requested $200 million in additional dollars from the state and $103 million from the city, in hopes of implementing Superintendent William Hite's Action Plan 3.0. City Council last week approved $70 million in new revenue, leaving the district with an $18 million hole next fiscal year.

Stanski said the district's budget includes the $159 million in new proposed state funding so that schools could immediately begin hiring and purchasing supplies if the money is approved. Without authorizing the extra state funding, the budget would have to be amended and spending would be delayed.

Robin Roberts, a member of Parents United for Public Education, criticized district officials for poor spending choices and not demanding more from lawmakers.

"Although there seems to be more than enough [money] to test our kids," she said, "there are not enough resources to educate them."


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