Philadelphia school deficit could hit $400 million, official says

The Philadelphia School District could face a budget shortfall of as much as $400 million in the next fiscal year, said Thomas E. Knudsen, the districts chief recovery officer.
The Philadelphia School District could face a budget shortfall of as much as $400 million in the next fiscal year, said Thomas E. Knudsen, the districts chief recovery officer. (SARAH J. GLOVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 07, 2012

The Philadelphia School District could face a budget shortfall of as much as $400 million in the next fiscal year, a top district official said Tuesday.

Or it could be $145 million - "still very big" but more manageable, said Thomas E. Knudsen, the district's chief recovery officer.

In a bit of good news, the district's current deficit has shrunk from $38.8 million to $26 million as the result of cuts and identification of new funding sources, he said.

Knudsen revealed the budget figures Tuesday evening during a presentation to students about the district's financial health at School District headquarters on North Broad Street.

The district estimates that its budget deficit will be $248 million, but that number could improve or worsen depending on new expenses and revenues, he said.

If City Council and Mayor Nutter agree on changing the property-tax system with more accurate assessments, the district could see $94 million in added revenue, Knudsen said. The city is counting on more property-tax revenue in the next fiscal year thanks to the Actual Value Initiative, an effort to fix decades of inaccurate and incomplete assessments.

If the district has to cover the costs of school vouchers or pay for new charter schools, the combined price tag could be $60 million.

The district is reeling from deep cuts it has had to make in the last year to make ends meet. It has laid off thousands of employees and slashed programs.

Knudsen was appointed in January to help restructure the district and figure out its finances. And a team of consultants - paid for with outside money, not district funds - is working on a one-month contract to address financial issues and help decentralize district operations. Those moves are expected to result in some savings.

For the current fiscal year, working with a $2.8 billion budget, the School Reform Commission has cut jobs and school programs to save money.

Earlier in the year, the deficit rose to $71 million.

To close the gap, the district cut 91 school police officers and some regional and central office staff.

The district implemented pay cuts and work furloughs, and curtailed summer school and recreation programs.

It is not clear where more savings would come from, or whether further layoffs would be necessary.

Officials have speculated that additional cuts could come from eliminating instrumental music, gifted programs, and bilingual counseling associates.

During a question-and-answer session, the first two students asked what the district would do to improve school safety.

Tonnie Howard, a 10th grader at Overbrook High School, questioned what the district was doing to "get more security or police officers in schools."

Penny Nixon, the district's chief academic officer, said that the district was working with teachers, parents, principals, students, and the community to make schools safer.

She did not discuss school police.


Contact Robert Moran at 215-854-5983 or bmoran@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @RobertMoran215.

Inquirer staff writer Kristen A. Graham contributed to this article.

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