The school budgets are "not adequate for the children we serve," said Chief Academic Officer Penny Nixon. "We lack the appropriate funding to provide our students with the education they deserve."
SRC Chairman Ramos agreed that it is ugly – and will be even uglier without City Council’s action to give the District more money.
“You can look at any school’s budget and determine what’s left without the $94 million,” he said. “We’re not cutting schools further. We’ve drawn the line.”
But without making major changes, he said, the District will face a $1.1 billion cumulative deficit in five years.
Knudsen said that borrowing $218 million is possible, but more than that is doubtful.
“We have maxed out our credit card,” he said.
Already, the District spends about $261 million, more than 10 percent of the operating budget, on debt service. It is still paying off its last major borrowing for operational costs, which occurred in 2002 as part of the state takeover of the District.
Seeking more funding
In the briefing for reporters, Knudsen and Ramos reiterated that getting $94 million from City Council was crucial not only to avoiding more cuts to schools, but also to maintaining credibility with Harrisburg that the city is willing to do its share to fund education.
“It would be a catastrophic mistake politically for the School District’s prospects in Harrisburg for a long time if Council failed” to give the District more money, Ramos said.
Mayor Nutter wants to raise the money through the so-called Actual Value Initiative, which would change the way residential property is assessed by bringing tax burdens more in line with what a home is actually worth. The city’s assessment system, rarely updated, has long been out of whack.
City Council failed to pass its own budget and tax bills Thursday for next year, missing its deadline. Council was still trying to coalesce around a plan to provide the District with additional funds, which Knudsen has said is crucial to the District's ability to regain some modicum of financial stability.
Council President Darrell Clarke told the It’s Our Money blog Thursday that Council is building a consensus around giving the District more money, but hasn’t agreed yet on how to do it.
It did pass a resolution that would delay any Council action until a settlement is reached with the District's blue-collar union, District 1201 of SEIU Local 32BJ. The union is threatened with the layoffs of all its 2,700 members, starting in July. The District has said it needs to trim $50 million in costs from maintenance and transportation and has put out a request for proposals to privatize these services.
The commissioners were adamant that they were determined to present a realistic, responsible budget rather than one that relied on unrealistic revenue projections.
“We’re being asked to repeat past dysfunctional behavior, which we are not going to do,” Ramos said.
Yes or no
At the SRC meeting, Knudsen’s attempt to explain the budget was initally drowned out by shouting protesters, some of whom were demanding answers to a series of yes-or-no questions.
First, protesters noisily asked whether the SRC would ask for more money from Harrisburg.
Ramos said “yes,” but added that “the answer should also be, 'Yes, you are supporting what the mayor is proposing in local funding.'”
To a chorus of boos, Ramos said, “That explains a lot."
At the briefing, Ramos criticized "labor" for not doing its part to share in the sacrifice required to keep the District functioning.
The PFT's contract expires in August 2013, and Jordan has said that he will not reopen negotiations beforehand. The SRC must pass a 2013 budget by May, however, so must know by then if it has been able to rein in labor costs going forward.
"You can’t say it's just about kids when adults all refuse to do more or give something up," Ramos said. "We all share the circumstances in which we find ourselves. ... At some point, labor will realize that there is no silver bullet, no magic out there, and we have to work together to increase revenues over the long term."
At the end of the meeting, however, Ramos thanked people for their participation.
"I will take passion over indifference any day of the week," he said.