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SRC likely to vote on budget without knowing state revenue

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The School Reform Commission is likely to vote on a budget Monday without knowing how much money the District will be getting from the state.

Intense budget maneuvering during the week will continue into the weekend, but it is entirely possible that the General Assembly will miss its June 30 deadline for approving a state budget.

Gov. Corbett said he would hold out past the deadline until he got support for his priorities, which include pension reform and privatization of state liquor stores. 

As of Friday, the House had passed a budget that includes no new revenue sources and would virtually wipe out increases for education spending that Corbett had proposed. That plan would eliminate about $20 million of the funds that the District was counting on from the state.

And that budget doesn't include authorization for a city $2-a-pack cigarette tax that would bring in about $40 million for the schools next year and $80 million a year after that.

The latest reports also indicated that the Senate wasn't interested in passing any new sources of revenue -- meaning that it is likely that Philadelphia schools won't get additional money from the state.

The bottom line so far for Philadelphia is that it needs $66 million just to reach this year's level of sparse services. If the House budget is what is ultimately adopted, that shortfall will grow by at least $20 million -- which means the likelihood of hundreds of more layoffs, larger classes, and longer walks for students to schools as transportation funding is cut. 

"The District will be presenting a budget on Monday for consideration by the SRC that has in it our current understanding of the revenues from the city for fiscal year 2015," said spokesman Fernando Gallard. "At this point, Friday, we don't have sufficient clarity from the state to be able to say what is going to be included from the state. We will wait for Monday when hopefully we will have a better understanding."

Harrisburg Republicans have made clear that they expect Philadelphia's delegation to play ball in the last-minute dealmaking if there is to be any relief for the city's schools. Specifically, they want votes for the pension reform, which is anathema to unions that form the core of the Democrats' support, and for other Corbett priorities including liquor privatization.

As the deadline loomed closer, SRC chairman Bill Green said: "I’m hopeful that members of Philly’s delegation will hold their nose and take some votes that will enable the District to get the required funding.”

State Budget Director Charles Zogby was quoted saying that "If Philadelphia Democrats aren't going to be there for what needs to be done, then nobody's going to be there for them. And they can go home and tell their constituents why they couldn't get money for the School District."

That sentiment was echoed by House Republican spokesman Steve Miskin, who said that if the city Democrats "continue to be a 'no' on everything," the cigarette tax is off the table.

Advocates say that this attitude is using the city's children as pawns.

"They're saying that if Philadelphia wants anything for schools, they have to make a deal on pensions," said Susan Gobreski, executive director of Education Voters PA. "That's totally putting kids in the center of the political maelstrom."

Gobreski said it was one thing to horse-trade for votes for favored programs and add-ons, but another thing to make deals just to get students a bare minimum of services.

Superintendent William Hite has been quoted as saying that if cuts have to be made beyond what the District already absorbed this year, schools will be "empty shells."

"That they would say, 'We'll starve your kids if you don't give us what we want' -- that's shocking," said Gobreski.

Gallard said that District lobbyists would be keeping tabs on developments over the weekend.

"We are continuing to work with Harrisburg and hope for the best," he said.

Kevin McCorry of NewsWorks contributed reporting.

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Dale Mezzacappa

@dalemezz
Dale is a contributing editor at the Notebook. She has reported on education since 1986, most of that time with The Philadelphia Inquirer.