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Ackerman quizzed about revenue worries

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

In sparsely attended City Council hearings on the 2010-11 School District budget Monday, Superintendent Arlene Ackerman and Chief Business Officer Michael Masch said that District administrative and operational costs have already been cut by $76 million, but would be cut deeper if Gov. Rendell’s proposed education funding increase for school districts is not fully funded.

In response to questioning by Councilman Bill Green, the superintendent said that while the District is currently working with a budget that includes a 6 percent across-the-board cut in non-instructional costs, her staff has also explored the contingency of an 8 percent cut.

The 6 percent reductions help balance a budget that includes recently negotiated raises and increased charter school costs, while allowing the funding of more than $60 million in new initiatives from the District’s Imagine 2014 strategic plan, including a major expansion of summer school.

Councilman Green, who issued his own white paper on school reform, questioned whether administrative cuts would be adequate to cope with the possible shortfall if the District doesn’t get the $95 million increase in basic education funding for Philadelphia called for in the Rendell budget.

After the hearing, Masch said that moving from a 6 percent to an 8 percent cut to non-instructional expenses would net the District only $15 million.

But he pointed out that the Rendell budget includes a 7 percent cut to education lines other than the basic education subsidy and said the governor’s proposed subsidy increase deserves to be supported. "I don’t want anyone to think that we don’t need and cannot use well the level of funding that’s the governor’s proposed," he said.

Earlier, in response to questioning by Green, Masch acknowledged that the District has prepared a "pessimistic" scenario of what the long-term budget for the District would look like if it cannot replace almost $250 million in non-recurring federal stimulus dollars that are coming to the School District this year and next. Green asked Masch to provide Council with documents on this scenario.

Only three Council members – Green, Blondell Reynolds-Brown and Jannie Blackwell – stayed for the entire four-hour Council session. Another day of questioning from Council members and public testimony is scheduled on Tuesday, with public testimony in the afternoon and evening.