"It is no secret that the district's current spending level, even after cuts, is unsustainable," Ramos told Council's education committee.
When Ramos joined the SRC last November, he viewed the budget situation as "a train wreck in progress." Officials had already cut more than $600 million through layoffs, program cuts and union concessions. But the SRC has had to cut millions more, and still faces the $26 million shortfall and a gap that's likely at least $269 million for fiscal 2013.
The prior SRC, led by Robert Archie Jr., and the administration of Superintendent Arlene Ackerman banked on the economy recovering quicker than it has, and there were "overly optimistic projections that despite everything that was being said in Harrisburg, reality would be hundreds of millions of dollars different," Ramos said.
In January, the SRC demoted two key district officials and brought in Thomas Knudsen as the chief recovery officer, a hybrid superintendent-chief financial officer to cut costs and decentralize operations.
Other issues, including charter schools and services for English-language learners, were also aired at the daylong Council hearing.
Charters were the subject of much discussion, with teachers' union president Jerry Jordan calling for an end to the district's Renaissance charter process, which gives away failing schools to outside providers.
Four district schools - Creighton, Edmunds, Cleveland and Jones - are scheduled to be turned into charters in September. Speakers from Creighton asked Council to use their influence to stop the conversion.
"The Renaissance Charter program isn't about improving achievement," Jordan said. "It's about divvying up schools, fragmenting and privatizing public education and, in the end, creating an even less equitable public-school system."
Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, the committee chairwoman, called Jordan's testimony "extremely important, extremely explosive" and said she would ask for answers from the SRC, which is scheduled to vote on Renaissance schools next month.
Lori Shorr, Mayor Nutter's Education secretary and an executive adviser to the SRC, stressed that the city and the district must think not about charters versus district schools but high-performing versus low-performing schools.
Contact Kristen A. Graham at 215-854-5146, email@example.com.