Schools plan for funding cuts

Posted: February 11, 2011

For the last two years, as the federal government doled out millions for education spending, the School District of Philadelphia has enjoyed an increase in teacher hires, resources and student achievement.

But with massive financial uncertainty looming, district officials now face the daunting task of restructuring the way they do business.

And that may include deep cuts across the board, from central office staff to teachers to music and sports.

Deputy Superintendent Leroy Nunery said that if the district doesn't get enough money from the city or state to plug the hole, the district should prepare for layoffs and budget cuts.

This year alone, the district could face a shortage of $36 million to $49 million, officials said, and the district may be staring down a deficit of more than $400 million for next year.

To prepare for this year's shortage, a hiring freeze has been instituted, while Central Office departments and programs will be consolidated and forced to reduce their spending by 30 percent.

Effective immediately, Superintendent Arlene Ackerman will take 10 unpaid days and her executive team will take eight unpaid days.

Nonunion employees with a salary of more than $100,000 will have to take six furlough days.

If their first attempt to balance the budget proves unsuccessful, officials may have to lay off a quarter of the Central Office staff, Ackerman said.

The district will also seek to renegotiate contracts, adjust class sizes and limit school transportation.

The hits won't stop there if the going continues to get tough, Ackerman said.

The district may be forced to lay off teachers, while art, sports and music may end up on the chopping block.

"If we have to go that far, it will gravely affect our core programs," she said.

In the worst-case scenario, the hole could go as deep as $500 million, but Ackerman called that highly unlikely. Two major factors - school vouchers, which are being debated in Harrisburg, and the possible removal of enrollment caps on charters - could send the district further into a tailspin, said chief financial officer Michael Masch.

"The bills add a new level of complexity," he said. "The voucher bill presents us with even more uncertainty with the way it's structured."

This school year alone, the district had to pay $65 million out of its $3.2 billion budget in charter-school costs, he said.

The amount of money the district will get from the state in Gov. Corbett's first budget is also uncertain.

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