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School District finance chief: Forecast looks shaky since the election

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    Jessica Kourkounis/WHYY




When Uri Monson, chief financial officer for the School District of Philadelphia, bolts out of bed at 2 a.m. and can't get back to sleep, he isn't thinking about monsters in his closet.

He's thinking about uncertainty.

Uncertainty is the bogeyman for fiscal planning types. And the way Monson sees it, unknowns are abundant these days — many of them stemming from last month, particularly the November election.

In that vote, Republicans made big gains in Harrisburg and locked up a veto-proof majority in Pennsylvania's Senate. That could make for a bitter showdown with Gov. Wolf, a Democrat, over the upcoming state budget. At the federal level, Donald Trump swept into the White House accompanied by vague suggestions that his administration could expand school choice, slash federal funding for low-income students — or both.

Also in the last month, Pennsylvania's nonpartisan Independent Fiscal Office projected a $1.7 billion deficit for the next fiscal year and the board that runs the state's teacher pension system voted through a higher-than-expected increase in the amount each school district must contribute.

Taken altogether, Monson sees a financial forecast that looks bleaker today than it did when the school year began. He's already fretting about how the perpetually cash-strapped district might have to adjust if the state or federal government pulls money.

"Those are my early-morning-hours thoughts, running through scenarios, how you account for those funds, what you can do to work around it, and how you can prepare," Monson said.

It's impossible to know how the latest election and the state's budget hole could affect Philadelphia's public schools. But for Monson, that's precisely the problem.

"You need to have stable finances so you can make stable investments in kids," he said. "It's really hard to put investments in and pull them back out again."

Read the rest of this story at NewsWorks


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