Donate today!
view counter

In hard times, how should the School District spend its money?

By Frank Murphy on Dec 13, 2010 03:28 PM
Photo: Daniel St.Pierre,

The recent financial bounty we have enjoyed in the School District of Philadelphia is coming to an end.

A decrease in state revenues, the end of federal stimulus funds, and a newly elected governor who has pledged not to raise taxes all suggest that the District will soon face a bleak financial future. 

Add to this the fact the education transition team chosen by the governor-elect includes many charter school and voucher advocates. It is conceivable that they will recommend diversion of public school money to fund more school choice options.

There is no doubt that more difficult choices and hard decisions are just ahead for the leaders of the School District of Philadelphia. This is not the future that Michael Masch, the chief financial officer for the District, planned for when he presided over the creation of the annual budget for the 2009-10 school year

Masch’s budget was designed to fund the reform strategies that Superintendent Arlene Ackerman had proposed for the next five years in her Imagine 2014 plan. Forty-four initiatives from the 2014 blueprint were selected for funding in the 2009 school year. Masch stated at that time that the cost for these 44 items would be approximately 25 percent of the five-year cost for the 2014 plan. He estimated that District revenues would have to grow $700 million by 2014 in order to pay for the total cost of all of Ackerman’s reform proposals.

The likelihood of acquiring this needed revenue was contingent on our elected officials’ willingness to increase the funding that the state provides to local school districts. In 2008, the Pennsylvania legislature did adopt a new school funding formula that would in six years' time increase by $600 million the annual funding which the School District of Philadelphia would receive. In 2009, the District expected a lump sum budget increase of $300 million. In anticipation of this funding and in accordance to Ackerman’s belief that money shouldn’t be an issue, the District began to implement the 2014 plan.

The projected first year costs were:

  • $32.5 million to reduce the size of K-3 classes in Empowerment Schools,
  • $18.5 million to hire additional counselors,
  • $16.8 million to create more flexible high school schedules,
  • $4.9 million to add 500 Head Start program slots,
  • $12 million to provide a four-week summer program, and
  • $2.4 million to start up of the Renaissance Schools initiative.

In the actual District budgets for 2009-10 and 2010-11, these activities were funded. However, the final costs of some of the initiatives turned out to be greater than what was projected. The 2009 summer school program for example, cost $21 million; in 2010, it rose to $42 million. In the six Promise Academies alone this year, the District is spending $7.2 million, though charter Renaissance Schools have cost less than anticipated.

The District has experienced an unprecedented increase in revenue during the last two years. As result, the resources available for our students have been enhanced.  Now that progress is likely to stall and conceivably regress. With the anticipated loss of $250 million in stimulus funds next spring there is no doubt that the District will have to reconsider its priorities with regard to how its remaining funds are spent.

So how should we reallocate the resources that will remain, as our district, state, and nation continue to cope with the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression?

Ackerman and her team have already started to make clear what they want to preserve in future District budgets. They have identified the District’s summer school program as a “must have” priority. Members of the SRC have offered their support for this budget line item.

The summer program has provided its attending students with 16 days of instruction and five days of testing for each of the two summers that it has been operational. How many children this program has served and what effect it has had on their overall academic progress is unclear from the information provided by District officials.

If the District again asks for $42 million for summer program in 2011, its costs would cover the cost of funding class size reduction in all of the District’s grades K-3 and half the cost of the additional counselors that have been hired for our middle and high schools. 

If you had to choose between continuing a summer school program and reducing class size during the regular school year, which would you select? As we head into what will undeniably be a difficult budget year, how well will the voices of parents, students, and teachers be heard in determining district funding priorities? Just recently a guest blogger parent voiced concern regarding the future funding of the District’s instrumental music programs. What concerns do you have?

What items should the School Reform Commission maintain in the 2011 budget? What would you suggest?

Click Here
view counter

Comments (5)

Submitted by Anon and anon (not verified) on December 13, 2010 6:46 pm

Summer SLAM was a joke. Do away with it. Smaller class sizes would be a lot more beneficial.

Also, no more big bonuses to administrators. Wait, how about no bonuses for administrators, period?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 8, 2011 3:19 pm

How could a non-profit org give bonuses anyway??? It should be an order to be returned.

Submitted by Teacher (K.R. Luebbert) (not verified) on December 13, 2010 6:58 pm

I agree, summer school (SLAM) is not a good use of funds. Smaller class sizes for students during the regular year are much more beneficial. Also, increase "attendance supports" for the students who do not attend regularly. Get everyone into school every day on time and there would not be as much need for summer school. Some middle grades students coast or do no work during the year because they know they can pass with a short summer school experience. I have actually had students say this to me. Maybe if they knew there was NO summer school, they could find some self-motivation. In addition, end all busing except for Special Ed students--voluntary transfer busing was supposed to be phased out several years ago, but some people seem to be able to game the system and get their kids on the school bus. Unfortunately, free SEPTA passes should be eliminated. If there is a choice between programs for children in schools and transportation, transportation should be cut. It is a parent's job to get their child safely to and from school each day. If the city or state want to offer reduced price passes to students, they should--the district should not pay for it.
Last, but not least, an outside auditor should go over EVERY expense at 440 North Broad Street--from toilet paper to turnstiles--with a fine tooth comb. I am sure there are very many extra, unnecessary expenses there.

Submitted by Meg (not verified) on December 14, 2010 7:11 am

The SLAM experience as it stands is a waste.
What our children need is reading instruction on their instructional level in small groups - throughout the year and throughout the month of July. There should be fun activities that connect to good literature and lots of time to read and play games designed to increase basic math and phonic skills. Pulling the kids through one level of workbooks is another huge waste of time, stress, money and energy. 5 days of testing in a 22 day program is ridiculous. What was this data used for anyway??
We can do better.

Submitted by Meg (not verified) on December 14, 2010 7:58 am

We must reduce class size. We must increase instructional level reading in all grades. We need to increase basic skill mastery and other math lessons that include problem solving and thinking. Yes, I said thinking. We have to increase attendance - on time attendance everywhere.
We need to increase the arts instruction we offer all of our children - they need art, music, computers, science, health and physical education. These should not be optional.
That SRC should ask the teachers what the priorities should be. They have no clue what our children need, but we do.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

By using this service you agree not to post material that is obscene, harassing, defamatory, or otherwise objectionable. We reserve the right to delete or remove any material deemed to be in violation of this rule, and to ban anyone who violates this rule. Please see our "Terms of Usage" for more detail concerning your obligations as a user of this service. Reader comments are limited to 500 words. You are fully responsible for the content that you post.

Follow Us On

Read the latest print issue

Philly Ed Feed

Recent Comments


Public School Notebook

699 Ranstead St.
Third Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Phone: (215) 839-0082
Fax: (215) 238-2300

© Copyright 2013 The Philadelphia Public School Notebook. All Rights Reserved.
Terms of Usage and Privacy Policy