SRC adopts budget with cuts

The widespread reductions promise to get even more painful without $63 million more in funding.

Posted: June 01, 2007

The Philadelphia School Reform Commission adopted a $2.18 billion budget yesterday with cuts in personnel and programs, including the arts, that only promise to get more painful if the district fails to secure $63 million in additional state and city funding.

The budget anticipates $54 million more in state funding than is included in Gov. Rendell's proposed budget and $9 million more in city funding over the $18 million that City Council approved for the district at a separate meeting yesterday.

District officials have warned that they would cut some nurses, librarians and counselors, as well as busing and other areas, without the additional funding.

Even with the funds, the budget calls for nearly $100 million in cuts, including a 15 percent reduction in central office staff and fewer contracts for outside services.

For the first time yesterday, the district detailed cuts in contracts, which are almost sure to bring more public backlash. Among them are the International Baccaulaureate program at elementary schools (the high school program remains intact) and two supplementary arts programs: the Philadelphia arts initiative, which includes students in a project to beautify schools with murals, and another program that brings professional artists into schools. It also would end a $30,000 contract with Dr. Paul Fink, who advises the district on students with behavioral problems - a growing group.

District officials say they will seek outside funding for some of the affected programs.

The budget, which increases spending by less than 3 percent, also leaves no reserve fund for emergencies.

Commissioners pledged to seek financial help from the state. "I stand ready to go to Harrisburg with you . . . to carry this out, to make our case in a responsible, supportive way," Commissioner Sandra Dungee Glenn told dozens of parents and education advocates who filled the district's auditorium at 440 N. Broad St. "This is not going to end here today."

Glenn and Commission Chairman James Nevels also said they planned to ask the state for even more revenue than the $54 million - enough to add 150 teaching positions, which would allow the district to lower class size. The positions are being eliminated because of a drop in enrollment caused in part by the growth of students in charter schools.

"This is a daunting task," Nevels acknowledged.

Reaction to the prospect of more state funding was mixed among state legislature leaders.

"I don't see that happening when they already get $25 million more than anyone else gets," said James R. Roebuck Jr. (D., Phila.), who chairs the House Education Committee. Roebuck was referring to a $25 million state earmark, $19 million of which has been used for six outside school managers.

State Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Phila.) was more upbeat.

"I am going to do everything I can do to be very helpful," said Evans, who chairs the Appropriations Committee. "I know they need more money. I'm going to work on that."

Evans said he was in state budget talks yesterday with Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, a Republican whose district includes Delaware and Chester Counties. "We discussed the city of Chester and Philadelphia," Evans said. "We did not talk exactly numbers, but we did talk about trying to be very helpful. . . . "

Pileggi could not be reached for comment.

The unanimous vote on the budget came at a 31/2-hour meeting continued from Tuesday's six-hour session, when the commission postponed a budget vote under pressure from angry citizens.

The commission also approved several measures drafted by Mayor Street and his administration, which huddled with a group of parents and education advocates until midnight Wednesday. The proposals will invite more public input in the budget process.

The district promised to release detailed information about each school's budget by June 11. It also agreed to hold two public hearings, one by June 29 and the other by July 15. The commission next month will approve a long-term process to invite more public input on budget development.

Parents were pleased, yet anxious.

"I'm still extremely troubled, disappointed, with the state of the budget as it currently exists," said Harry Levant, president of the Home and School Association at Shawmont School in Upper Roxborough. "At the same time, I'm cautiously optimistic that with the additional resolution, we may be turning the pages to a new day of a cooperative effort."

Street, who spoke to the commission by phone, pledged to help find more city money for schools.

Parents and student groups had threatened on Wednesday to take legal action against the commission, alleging the commissioners violated the state's Sunshine Act by deliberating on the budget in private.

Commissioners yesterday denied any violation of the law, which requires government bodies to conduct most business in public, apart from a few specific exceptions, including personnel decisions.

Parents said they were still mulling legal action.

Helen Gym of Parents United for Public Education said the Street proposals adopted by the commission provided opportunities to continue to analyze and tweak the budget through June.

Gym, a Powel School parent, said that by the June 30 deadline in the proposals, the district will know the amount of additional funds coming from the city and the state.

She also said that the district's promises to open the budget process would make it more transparent.

The meeting was filled with impassioned pleas and concerns.

David Lewis, 38, a University City High graduate, offered to help raise money for schools so that students would fare better than he had. He read about the district's budget woes in a newspaper and said he felt he had to attend the meeting.

"My life was messed up early," he said, his voice cracking with emotion as a minister in the audience approached and put his hand on Lewis' shoulder in support.

"I went to jail when I was 21. I came out when I was 29. . . . I'm back working two jobs again, trying to get my life on track.

"If I had a chance to do it again, I would have paid more attention in school and got an education right. . . . It's just hard without education."

He said the district should not cut music over sports or any particular program, because it might be the thing that prevents a student from dropping out.

"You're neglecting certain students when you're making your cuts," he warned.

Kevin Peter, a parent whose child attends Henry Elementary in Mount Airy, said larger class sizes, safety concerns and loss of music teachers, among other specialities, were driving parents out of the city in search of better schools.

"To the extent the budget decisions continue these negative trends, we'll see more families take their resources and participation elsewhere," said Peter, who belongs to a group of Henry School supporters.

The district still must identify $18 million more in cuts to keep the budget balanced. It restored 100 teaching positions and several programs that the administration had proposed cutting. The moves are sure to anger citizens.

"We're trying to do as little harm as possible," Nevels said.


Budget Highlights

Cuts detailed for the first time yesterday include:

Stipends for student teachers, a program run through the Philadelphia Education Fund: $2.1 million

Philadelphia Mural Arts contract, which includes students in a project to beautify schools with murals: $448,260

International Baccalaureate program at elementary schools, a rigorous academic curriculum: $400,000

Urban Family Council Contract, which provides teen pregnancy and prevention: $127,500

Philadelphia Arts in Education project that brings professional artists into schools: $330,404

Contract with Dr. Paul Fink, who advises the district on students with behavior problems: $30,000

World Affairs Council contract at Bodine High School for International Affairs: $102,752

Teacher assistance center contract: $22,500

Philadelphia University Summer College Facilitation program: $67,000

Reduction in Communities in Schools after-school program, Philadelphia Academies contract, Philadelphia Education Fund middle school contract.

Other cuts include:

Fifteen percent reduction in central office staff: 14.1 million

Funding for six outside managers of public schools, including the for-profit Edison Schools Inc.: $6 million, or about a third of the money spent on providers.

Reduction in the number of retirees hired back on contract: $2.7 million.

The district says some of the programs are being eliminated due to low usage or because they duplicate programs run in-house.


For a video, a blog from the meeting and budget documents, go to http://go.philly.com/schoolbudget


Contact staff writer Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or ssnyder@phillynews.com.

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