SRC adopts budget, but questions remain

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SRC Chairwoman Marjorie Neff said she was "deeply troubled" by the budget situation. "Our children deserve more than the limited resources we have year after year," Neff said. (TOM GRALISH/Staff Photographer)

With no end in sight to budget debates in Harrisburg, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission adopted a spending plan Tuesday that guarantees little else beyond schools opening on time in September.

The SRC unanimously approved a $2.6 billion budget that could rise to $2.8 billion, depending on how much money state lawmakers appropriate for Philadelphia schools.

Principals and central office staff, however, will have no authority to spend beyond this year's austerity levels until a state budget deal is reached. That means those hoping to hire new staff cannot yet do so.

SRC Chairwoman Marjorie Neff said she was "deeply troubled" by the budget situation.

"Our children deserve more than the limited resources we have year after year," Neff said.

The $2.6 billion figure assumes $70 million in new money from the city - $45 million already promised, with $25 million more to come if the district meets certain conditions - and $18 million in new cash from the state.

Gov. Wolf has proposed $159 million in new funds for the district, but a Republican spending plan passed this week would give city schools just $18 million more.

That $88 million - the city money plus the state's contribution - would wipe away the district's deficit and guarantee, for the first time in three years, a summer in which parents and staff know that schools will open on time.

Matthew Stanski, the district's chief financial officer, said that while officials had hoped they would have a clearer picture of the budget by this time, the possibility still exists that schools will see some modest investments in staff and supplies in the coming school year.

"We're trying to continue to get the message out there that revenues are necessary," Stanski said.

If appropriated, the new money would be given to principals to spend as they see fit. At J.H. Brown Elementary in Holmesburg, for example, the aid would mean a new counselor, a new teacher, and $100,000 more for books, supplies, and technology.

"It gets more difficult to hire additional teachers and counselors as you get into August, September," said Stanski.

Brown has gained 30 students but lost staff since 2010-11.

Some speakers expressed disappointment in the budget.

"It is clear that the doomsday budget is now the status quo," said Robin Roberts, a member of Parents United for Public Education. Roberts said she believed the district was not making sound decisions.

There were some victories in the budget, Stanski said.

The district ended its fiscal year Tuesday with a $6.9 million surplus - a modest sum, but given the fiscal nightmares of the last several years and the fact that city revenues from real estate tax collections and the Use and Occupancy tax were down $21 million from spring projections, a notable one.

"That reflects our increased internal controls around expenditures, and it highlights yet another challenge we're facing getting our structural deficit in order," Stanski said. "We were very conservative in budgeting."

The district spent less on cyber charter payments, salaries, and benefits than it had expected to, he said.

Tuesday was Stanski's last day working in Philadelphia. He was hailed by Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. as "a true public servant" with "an unsurpassed work ethic."

Hite and Neff credited Stanski with righting the district's fiscal ship during the most challenging of times. Stanski is leaving to take a similar job in Maryland.


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