fightison 0 Photo: Harvey Finkle

A year ago, some warned of an impending "tsunami" in the 2011 budget process when the School District would be buffeted by the loss of federal stimulus dollars and by rising costs.

The tsunami is here.

The District has prepared a budget that eliminates more than 3,800 positions – nearly one of every six jobs in the system.

According to this May draft budget, spending must be reduced $428 million, or 13 percent.

However, that might not be enough. The plan to close a $629 million budget gap is dependent upon two huge assumptions: that the District will get $75 million in givebacks from employees and $57 million in "relief" from charter school costs. Without those, areas like summer school, athletics, instrumental music, and nurses could face deeper reductions, officials said.

The proposed elimination of full-day kindergarten, yellow bus service, and TransPasses immediately provoked outcry. Education advocates, local officials and other school districts are demanding increased state funding to restore such cuts.

Announcing a series of community budget meetings in May, Chief Financial Officer Michael Masch invited alternative proposals. "We are open to any good idea for how to do this better. … We have done the best that we could."

The impact at the school level is hard to pinpoint and varies from one building to the next. Cuts are hitting schools from all sides:

  • There are cuts in the direct allocations of staff from the central office that pay for positions like counselors, school nurses, and special education teachers.

  • Fewer teachers were allocated for reduced class size; the District predicts an average increase of three students per class in grades K-3.

  • Schools’ operating funds to purchase positions like administrators, office staff, librarians, and extracurricular activities are cut on average 29 percent.

  • Support personnel are hard hit. Custodial staff, including building engineers and cleaners, are also cut 29 percent.

A focal point for protesters has been Gov. Tom Corbett’s decision to slash education funding by $1.2 billion. The brunt is borne by needy districts like Philadelphia. Cuts to the District account for one-fourth of that amount.

With local tax revenue for schools flat for four years running, advocates say city government should also help. One way would be for the city to pick up transportation costs.

Parents have also communicated frustration with the District plan. At one community meeting, Saul High School parents said that losing three agriculture teachers undermined the school’s purpose. At another, many parents pleaded for the restoration of full-day kindergarten as well as for early childhood programs, where about 1,000 slots are targeted for elimination.

A storm of protest greeted the announced plan to cut a key dropout prevention initiative – the District’s network of privately run accelerated high schools that serve nearly 2,000 over-age students.

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