The news remains grim: Without major cash infusions from the city and state, the Philadelphia School District faces a deficit of roughly $80 million for the coming school year, officials said Monday night.
School Reform Commissioner Feather O. Houstoun, opening the discussion at a planning meeting, put it mildly: Despite a new Democratic governor who has expressed sympathy for the district's plight, the 2015-16 budget is sure to contain "a lot of challenges."
Chief among them are fixed costs that are increasing far faster than revenue. Current projections have revenue rising $13 million and expenditures rising about $100 million to maintain the current level of service, which does not allow for full-time counselors and nurses at every school.
The district would need $370 million more next year to execute Superintendent William R. Hite Jr's plan for academic improvements.
In its $2.6 billion 2014-15 budget, the school system is spending just 53 percent of its revenue on district-run schools. It is spending 29 percent on charter schools, 11 percent on debt service, 4 percent on out-of-district costs, and 3 percent on administrative costs, officials said.
For the projected 2015 budget, the biggest increases will be in charter school spending, pension costs, and debt service - $42 million, $34 million, and $5 million.
The SRC lacks the authority to raise its own money. Chief financial officer Matthew Stanski reiterated that the district would ask the state for $206 million in new recurring money and the city for $103 million. The requests are sure to be a tough sell in City Hall and Harrisburg.
The district also wants $50 million in labor savings, Stanski said. That number corresponds to the amount it had hoped to take by force in canceling the teachers' contract and imposing changes to health benefits.
Commonwealth Court recently ruled the SRC did not have the power to take that action. The district has not yet decided whether to appeal that decision, but must do so soon.
Also likely to affect the budget picture is the SRC's looming decision on charter schools. No new charters have been approved for seven years, and the commission will vote on 39 applications on Feb. 18.