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Reduced class size a budget priority

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

The School District’s 2003-04 budget calls for modest overall growth, funding of new programs primarily through reallocating funds, a small operating deficit, and a total of nearly $1.8 billion in spending.

The budget includes approximately $100 million in new and reallocated federal and local funds targeted to the District’s education initiatives. This includes:

  • $48 million for class size reduction;
  • $29 million for curriculum and instruction reform;
  • $17 million for Extended Day programs;
  • $14.2 million for summer school;
  • $10.4 million for teacher recruitment and retention;
  • $8.2 million for alternative and Saturday school programs.

Another piece of the plan is to reallocate $10 million in funds currently going to EMOs to help finance high school reforms. The budget includes an increase of $8.7 million for debt service to fund the District’s ambitious school construction plan.

The District is exerting tighter control over use of federal Title I funds and directing much of that money to reducing class sizes.

The plan is not without pain. For example, it projects a salary freeze for top employees and the elimination of 493 assistants in kindergarten classrooms. The cut of these positions, known as SSAs, would save $5.2 million.

This budget also shifts resources from non-teaching to teaching positions. Despite declining enrollments, the District is budgeting for more than 350 additional classroom teachers to pursue class size reduction. Overall, however, there will be a reduction of 373 positions.

The District originally identified $99 million in operating savings by better managing personnel, finding operational efficiencies, and reducing non-school budgets across the board. Examples of the savings include: improved management of facilities, workers compensation and health care costs; reduced professional services contracts and overtime; and elimination of non-school based vacancies.

An additional round of cuts, including the kindergarten SSAs, was necessary because the District had to downgrade its projected income from the state by $65 million. But approval of Governor Rendell’s education program would brighten the picture and provide a significant infusion of funds. Vallas has indicated that he hopes to defer some layoffs.

"This budget is balanced and responsible," said Michael Harris, the District’s chief financial officer. "We are still only using about $46.6 million of the $300 million deficit financing fund created by City Council and the Pennsylvania General Assembly last summer."

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