Philly bears brunt of school cuts

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

School District officials said Wednesday that more than one-fourth of the education cuts in Gov. Corbett’s proposed state budget are falling upon Philadelphia, even though it serves only about one-tenth of the state’s students.

At a Wednesday press conference, they also for the first time put a specific dollar figure on the size of the District’s overall budget gap for next year – $465 million. That figure factors in both anticipated revenue losses and expense increases.

But conspicuously missing from that calculation was any dollar figure accounting for the negotiated 3 percent pay increase for teachers and others in January 2012.

Corbett called for a pay freeze for teachers in his budget address.

Corbett’s budget would result in a net loss of $409 million in revenues to Philadelphia schools, according to Michael Masch, the District’s chief financial officer. A portion of that gap represents a loss of $116 million in direct federal funding that came through the stimulus program. The balance of the decrease, $292 million, is the District’s whopping share of the overall $1 billion in education cuts Corbett proposed.

Masch cited these two additional challenges it faces on the expense side:

  • a minimum $39 million increase in charter school costs, and
  • an increase of $17 million in pension costs.

Masch said that unless something brightens the budget picture, the budget crunch "will disrupt the District’s ability to serve its 200,000 students."

"Given the progress that Philadelphia has made, it has proven that resources matter, and when we give kids an opportunity, they take it," said Susan Gobreski of Education Voters PA, referring to eight years of rising test scores. "By targeting these cuts in this way the governor is sticking a finger in the eye of Philadelphia."

An initial target for budget cuts is the District’s 1,000 central office employees. The District says it’s planning for a 30 percent central office reduction. But this will barely make a dent in the overall shortfall. The District spends only $92 million on central office costs in its $3.2 billion budget.

The District has announced two meetings to invite public input on its budget situation prior to the completion of its budget proposal. Those are March 17 at Benjamin Franklin High School from 6-8 p.m. and March 19 from 10 a.m. to noon at South Philadelphia High School.