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Budget forecast: Another year of growth

By Paul Socolar on Apr 21, 2010 09:56 PM

Unlike districts across the country that are grappling with teacher layoffs and harsh cutbacks, the School District of Philadelphia, in its $3.2 billion draft budget for 2010-11 released Wednesday, projects a third consecutive year of new and expanded offerings.

Philadelphia schools can expect an infusion of $52 million in federal stimulus grant dollars for school improvement, Chief Business Officer Michael Masch told the School Reform Commission, as well as a $90 million boost in the state's basic education subsidy if Gov. Ed Rendell's education budget survives what is expected to be a contentious legislative process in Harrisburg.

Masch is expecting overall revenues to rise 5 percent even though District income from local sources is flat.

But grim news is on the horizon: an expected surge in pension costs of more than $150 million over the next three years, coupled with the real possibility that this is the last year the District will get a quarter of a billion dollars of federal stimulus funds for education.

Masch also pointed out that despite recent funding increases, Philadelphia is still thousands of dollars short of its target for an adequate level of funding as measured in the 2007 state "costing-out study."

Asked about contingencies if this year's final state budget delivers less education aid than Rendell proposes, Masch said the governor's proposal is "reasonable" and added, "We should be asking 'What can we all do to persuade legislators to approve the budget the governor proposed?'"

Masch said much of the increased revenue will be consumed by negotiated wage increases, increased charter school expenses, anticipated increases in electric rates, pension contributions,and increased borrowing costs for the District's capital budget. The District will be making cuts in some areas to help cover these increased costs.

But he said there will be money to maintain all the District's current Imagine 2014 strategic plan programming such as expanded counseling services and reduced class size, as well several new or expanded initiatives:

  • 14 schools will be converted to Renaissance Schools or Promise Academies and offer a longer school day and year.
  • The District will operate an expanded full-day summer program at 117 schools, serving 50,000 students, at a cost of $47 million, up from $20 million last year.
  • English language learners can expect 16 new ESOL teachers on top of the 43 added this year, as well as three "Newcomer Learning Academies" for recent immigrants grades 6-12 and an improved curriculum.
  • Three more high schools will have Student Success Centers next fall, where students can get one-stop guidance on college-going, internships, and academic issues.
  • The District is opening a second Re-engagement Center located in Hunting Park, a second Regional Talent Center located at Audenried High School, and a second Regional Early Childhood Center (no location specified).

As they did last year, District officials provided a 36-page "Budget in Brief" document (not yet available on the District website) that provides hundreds of lines of additional detail on where expenditures and staff will be growing or shrinking.

The document indicates that some central office departments will be facing cuts of 20 percent or more - for example, the offices of specialized services and teaching and learning - but will not see large cuts in the number of employees.

Districtwide, despite the new initiatives, the total number of staff will decline by about 1 percent, or 247 full-time equivalent positions. The ranks of teachers will be thinned by 81 through normal turnover, despite an expected 1 percent increase in enrollment, Masch said.

"I do not believe there will be any layoffs," Masch said.

But looking beyond federal stimulus funding and toward upcoming changes in pension formulas, Commissioner David Girard-DiCarlo urged District staff to prepare for what he called "the looming tsunami and volcano."

The District budget will be presented at public hearings in April and May, including May 10 and 11 at City Council, and will come to a vote at a rescheduled School Reform Commission meeting on May 26.

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