Budget expert Masch leaving school district

Michael Masch had been sidelined as the district's chief financial officer earlier in this year.
Michael Masch had been sidelined as the district's chief financial officer earlier in this year.
Posted: May 12, 2012

Michael Masch, the financial guru backed by ex-Gov. Rendell who was sidelined as chief financial officer of the beleaguered Philadelphia School District earlier this year when the School Reform Commission overhauled its leadership structure, will leave his job in three weeks, officials said Thursday night.

News of Masch's imminent departure was made public at a school budget meeting between district officials and community members at West Philadelphia High School, during a question-and-answer volley between a parent and SRC Chairman Pedro Ramos.

"What I can confirm is that the chairman of the School Reform Commission stated . . . that Mr. Masch would be leaving the school district on May 31," said Fernando Gallard, a spokesman for the district.

Gallard had no other details about the high-profile departure from a district whose profound financial struggles are the focal point of a recent budget proposal calling for drastic spending cuts and revenue-generating measures.

At the meeting, Ramos did not say whether Masch, a former state budget director to Gov. Rendell, had resigned or been let go, according to a parent who was present, activist Helen Gym, cofounder of Parents United for Public Education.

"I think it was an issue that needed to be resolved for a lot of people, and it's really time to move on," said Gym, who said the topic arose when a parent asked Ramos why officials who were viewed as accountable for the district's tangled finances remained employed.

"I think that the School Reform Commission has been explicit that the previous administration had not been forthcoming or accurate about its financial projections," Gym said, "and in fact had played a dangerous game of putting in projections that were unrealistic or completely inaccurate."

A call to Masch was not immediately returned. Nor was a call to Ramos.

In January, with a new oversight body in place after the departure of controversial Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman, the SRC said the district faced a financial crisis so grave it would have to cut tens of millions of dollars from its budget by June.

It nudged Masch aside by naming a chief recovery officer, Thomas Knudsen, and additionally giving him the title of acting superintendent and Masch's title of chief financial officer.

Ramos has publicly criticized the district's fiscal policies under Masch and his predecessors, though he never mentioned them by name. For years, the district spent money it could not afford to spend, Ramos said, and now, the nearly broke school system is paying the price.

Earlier this week, district officials appeared before City Council to request $94 million in new city money, through property taxes, to help offset a forecast $312 million shortfall.

Knudsen has said he wants to close 40 schools in 2013 and six more in each of the next four years as one of many cost-cutting measures.


Contact Maria Panaritis at 215-854-2431 or mpanaritis@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @panaritism.

|
|
|
|
|