Clayton Assails Casey Budget Proposal Casey's "Equity\" Plan Costs City Schools $27 Million. Clayton Decried Casey's \"hollow Pronouncements."

Posted: February 12, 1993

Philadelphia School Superintendent Constance Clayton warned yesterday that Gov. Casey's proposed budget could "devastate" public education in the city and force her to ask City Council for a tax increase to pay for essential student services.

At a news conference, an angry Irvin R. Davis, the district's managing director, said that Casey had "screwed" the district out of $27 million, due mostly to his new formula designed to redress funding gaps between rich and poor districts across the state.

Davis, who has been studying state budgets and their impact on the city since 1968, said, "I've never seen a worse one. This is called, 'Screw the Philadelphia school district.' "

In unusually harsh language, Clayton accused Casey of "hollow pronouncements" about his desire to provide children "with every opportunity to succeed."

"What (Casey) has proposed for Philadelphia is untenable," she said. "It is an insult to our children, to our teachers, to our parents, to our communities."

To balance his 1994 budget, Davis anticipated a 4 percent increase in the state subsidy, known as ESBE (Equalized Subsidy for Basic Education). This year, the district got a $548 million subsidy from the state, close to half of its $1.2 billion budget. A 4 percent increase would have brought in an additional $22 million.

Instead, under Casey's new "equity" formula, Philadelphia will get just a $3.5 million increase - or 0.6 percent.

This is because Philadelphia, which educates 40 percent of the state's poor children, is in the paradoxical position of being a "rich" district compared with many rural areas and small towns.

In addition to the loss of more than $18 million in expected ESBE funds, Davis said the school district would lose some special-education aid, as well as the state contribution to the tuition costs of about 1,000 special-needs students placed in private schools.

The net shortfall is $27 million, Davis said.

As a result of the Casey budget and other adverse factors, including lagging real estate tax growth in the city, Davis is forecasting a $59.4 million deficit at the end of fiscal 1994, compared with a $7.5 million deficit anticipated in October.

Unless the state legislature modifies Casey's proposal, Clayton said, the only alternatives are deep cuts in services to children or more money from the city. The district has powerful friends in the legislature who could be expected to work to increase state aid.

Said Board of Education President Rotan Lee, "The governor has robbed Peter to pay Paul and the Philadelphia school district is Peter."

NEW TAXES OPPOSED

David Cohen, Mayor Rendell's chief of staff, said the mayor remains opposed to any new real estate or business taxes. "That's essentially an irrevocable position," he said.

But Rendell and City Council President John Street intend to push for a liquor-by-the-drink tax dedicated to the schools that could bring in as much as $25 million a year, Cohen said.

"Overall, from the point of view of Philadelphia, this is a very good budget," Cohen said of the Casey plan. "But we would have to classify his treatment of education as disappointing."

Cohen said that even before the Casey budget came out, city officials planned to lobby for more state education aid. He said a meeting is already set up with the city's legislative delegation.

A spokeswoman for Casey yesterday defended the governor's new formula, which reduced the overall pot and set aside $100 million for low-spending school districts. Most of those are in rural areas and small towns in the northern, central and western parts of the state.

CITY 'IS NOT ALONE'

"The governor had just a certain amount of money to work with," said Janet Elfring, state Department of Education spokeswoman. "Philadelphia is not alone in the disparities that exist in school funding."

Elfring pointed out that Philadelphia already gets close to one-sixth of the entire $3 billion ESBE allotment, and ranks among the top 20 percent of school districts statewide in expenditures per pupil, at $6,698 per child. Some rural districts - which have banded together to sue the state over the educational funding disparities - spend as little as $3,000 a pupil.

Pittsburgh and Chester-Upland, other urban districts with high concentrations of poor children and relatively high spending levels, also lose under the Casey budget.

"The formula was designed to deal with the disparity in spending, and Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are high-spending school districts," said Elfring.

Even though Philadelphia ranks among the top-spending school districts in the state, it ranks 40th out of the 50 districts in money spent per pupil in the five-county area, and 48th out of 50th if only instructional costs are included.

TEACHERS' RAISE DUE

Lee said that the school district was counting on the 4 percent ESBE increase to pay for the new two-year teachers' contract, which gives teachers a 3 percent raise in January 1994. The district was reluctant to offer even that much without the virtual assurances of Philadelphia legislators - primarily two powerful Democrats: Sen. Vincent Fumo, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Rep. Dwight Evans, chair of the House Appropriations Committee - that the money would be forthcoming.

"When we entered the bargaining agreement, we were told by members of the Philadelphia delegation that we would get an increase in ESBE," said Lee." This is a fraction of what we had anticipated."

Asked whether they would try to reopen contract negotiations, Lee said, ''Only if you want to bring in the National Guard." Representatives of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, who were sitting in the audience, reiterated Lee's position. "There's no way we'll take a pay cut," said Jerry Jordan, a union official.

Neither Evans nor Fumo could be reached for comment yesterday. But in past years, under heavy lobbying, the legislature has usually increased Philadelphia's share over what the governor requested.

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