SRC adopts $2.8 billion spending outline; no new city revenues sought

Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. predicted the district will have to close three schools a year.

The Philadelphia School Reform Commission on Thursday approved the broad outlines of a proposed $2.8 billion budget for next year that, while anticipating it will have to pay more for charters and pensions, does not see the district's having to ask City Council for new revenue.

In a briefing before the SRC meeting, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said the district would ask Harrisburg for more money in the fiscal year that begins July 1, but for the first time in years the city will not be tapped for more.

"There's no 'ask' to City Council," he told reporters.

But amid the somewhat upbeat report, Hite expressed concerns about the district's long-range financial health.

Its five-year spending plan forecasts deficits beginning with fiscal 2017-18 if the district does not get new sources of revenue. That usually means more money from the state, city, or federal governments.

Uri Monson, the district's chief financial officer, told the SRC that the district's revenues are projected to grow 2.2 percent over the next five years while costs - including charter payments and pensions - would rise by 4.5 percent.

Hite said the five-year forecast "is putting everyone on notice that here are the years when we're going to need additional revenue if certain things do not change."

He also said that starting in 2017-18, he expects the district will have to close three schools annually to offset the increase of 10,000 charter students projected over the next five years. The increase stems from new schools and charter expansions the SRC has approved.

Hite said that closing a few under-enrolled schools per year would avoid mass closures, such as the 24 that were shuttered in 2012-13.

The long-range plan also calls for new spending to carry out academic goals.

Hite wants the district to spend $440 million over the next five years to pay for such things as literacy materials, turnaround schools, and summer enrichment.

His action plan also has a goal of boosting high school graduation rates from 65 percent to 80 percent in five years.

Before the SRC meeting, Hite announced that thanks to the end of a nine-month impasse over a state budget, city schools will remain open until the end of this academic year.

He said that the $52 million the district expects to receive from the state will ensure that schools won't have to close early. Gov. Wolf's decision Wednesday to allow the Republicans' $30 billion state budget to become law was "welcome relief," he said.

On Wednesday, Wolf announced that he would allow the plan to become law without his signature. State officials said cash-strapped districts should begin to see some of the $3 billion in basic education funds Monday.

As for the coming fiscal year, Hite said the $1.5 billion the district anticipates receiving from the state after July 1 includes the additional education funding Wolf has proposed in his $33.3 billion state budget for 2016-17.

Republican lawmakers, however, have already derided Wolf's proposal.

Hite said the district used the numbers from the governor's budget because "there's only one proposal out there, and it's the governor's proposal."

Monson said that two major items were driving an increase in costs for the next fiscal year - $121 million more for charters and an additional $35 million for pension payments.

The SRC's unanimous adoption of what is called the district's "lump sum" budget begins a process that will include hearings to develop a detailed spending plan that the commission is to vote on at the end of May.

Marjorie Neff, chairwoman of the SRC, said that after the district had endured devastating cuts over the last four years, it has reached a financial turning point and is positioned to make investments in schools.

martha.woodall@phillynews.com 215-854-2789 @marwooda