SRC adopts $2.6B 'placeholder' budget

Posted: July 02, 2014

WITH STATE funding still up in the air, the School Reform Commission last night unanimously adopted a $2.6 billion budget that assumes additional support from the state to prevent making devastating cuts - although the pain may only be delayed.

The district's budget includes a "placeholder" for $93 million in additional revenue from the state to close the district's budget shortfall - a move urged by Mayor Nutter in a letter to commissioners yesterday - but that money is far from certain.

"We're going to do this placeholder, and, hopefully, over the next week or so [it] will be made up with revenue," SRC chairman Bill Green said before the vote. "We're really punting on our difficult decisions tonight by passing a placeholder budget. We have [advocated], and will continue to advocate, for additional funding."

Green's sentiments were echoed by Superintendent William Hite, who was still calling on state lawmakers to come up with a solution even after weeks of intense lobbying from elected officials and education advocates, who staged a sit-in at the state Capitol this week.

"Our assumption is that our schools will have what they need in order to give students the education they deserve," Hite said.

If the additional revenue does not come, officials will be forced to cut their way out of the hole. Those cuts could include laying off hundreds of teachers, putting as many as 41 students in a class, further scaling back central-office staff, reducing school police, slashing facility maintenance and making cuts to transportation that would require high school students to walk an extra half-mile.

Another option could be a shortened school year, Hite said.

"The prospect of 40 students in a classroom and hundreds of fewer support staff in already severely under-resourced schools poses an extreme disservice to Philadelphia schoolchildren," the superintendent said. "It's not acceptable, and we have no intention of creating that type of environment."

Asked after the meeting about the idea of shortening the year, Hite said: "Is it an option? Yes."

The state Senate last night adopted an amendment that would allow Philadelphia to enact a city-only $2-per-pack tax on cigarettes, which would give the beleaguered district much-needed revenue. The measure would have to be approved in the House, and was not expected to be voted on until today.

Even if the cigarette tax passes, it is expected to generate $45 million in the first year, still leaving the district about $48 million short. A $39 million grant increase proposed by Gov. Corbett last fall was removed because of the state's revenue shortfall.

As part of the budget, the district is making several moves that it expects will save $15 million without hurting students. The reductions include changes to debt service, eliminating vacant teacher positions, consolidating special-education personnel and lowering interest rates.

The district delayed voting on a budget in May, which is required by the city charter, because of the funding uncertainty. Since that time, it has received approval from City Council for $120 million from the sales-tax extension, and legislation was introduced that would authorize the city to borrow $30 million on the district's behalf.

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