Facing huge budget shortfall, district to cut 240 administration jobs

In the face of worsening finances, the Philadelphia School District said Wednesday that it planned to cut 240 positions from central administration offices.

Because some of the posts are vacant, district officials could not say how many staffers would lose their jobs at the district's headquarters, at 440 N. Broad St.

In addition, the district is reorganizing administrative departments and has ordered a 30 percent cut in those budgets.

"What we are trying to do is protect the schools as best we can," Deputy Superintendent Leroy Nunery told reporters at a budget briefing before a scheduled meeting of the School Reform Commission.

"Through these tough times and the difficult decisions that lie ahead, we will keep the best interests of our children as the priority," Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman said at the SRC meeting. "We've been through difficult times before, and I just wanted to reassure everybody we're not going to quit."

The budget briefing came a day after Gov. Corbett proposed a fiscal 2012 budget that would cut more than $1 billion in state funding for public education.

District officials said they were not sure how much the administrative cuts announced Wednesday would save. The central office accounts for only $92 million of the district's $3.2 billion budget.

The elimination of 240 jobs is 30 percent of the 800 positions at headquarters paid from the operating budget. Grants fund an additional 200.

Michael J. Masch, the district's chief financial officer, said a detailed analysis of Corbett's spending plan showed that the district would receive $292 million less from Harrisburg than in the current fiscal year. The proposed cuts: $107 million in basic education funding, $110 million in reimbursement for charter school costs, $55 million from the Accountability Block Grant used to pay for all-day kindergarten, $19 million in educational assistance funding for summer school and after-school tutoring, and $1 million for dual-enrollment programs in which high school students earn college credits.

Masch pointed out that Corbett's budget called for a 10 percent cut in education funding for the state's 500 districts. But because of the programs cut, Philadelphia, he said, would suffer 25 percent of the cuts even though the district educates only 10 percent of the state's students.

He said that while the district had expected to lose funding from the federal stimulus program, which is ending, Corbett's budget included $100 million less revenue for the district than expected.

The district believes it is facing a shortfall of at least $465 million in the fiscal year that will begin July 1, based on "known challenges to date," Masch said. He has declined to comment on reports by knowledgeable sources that the district's actual funding gap exceeds $600 million.

Earlier in the day, the district announced that nine members of Ackerman's executive staff had decided to double their furlough days from eight to 16. Ackerman and Nunery will take 20 while other nonunionized staffers earning more than $100,000 will take six. The district expects the furloughs will save more than $600,000.

The district announced it will hold two sessions so the public can comment on the planned cuts: 6 to 8 p.m. next Thursday at Benjamin Franklin High School, 550 N. Broad St., and 10 a.m. to noon March 19 at South Philadelphia High School, 2101 S. Broad St.

Contact staff writer Martha Woodall at 215-854-2789 or martha.woodall@phillynews.com.