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Principals get bad budget news

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

Philadelphia’s principals today got the grim news in an email that their operating budget for the current year is being cut again – anywhere from 1 to 3 percent.

The email, from Acting Superintendent Leroy Nunery and Chief Financial Officer Michael Masch, also announced a significant reduction in school nursing services.

Principals were supplied with a list showing the amount they can save by eliminating various school positions effective January 1.

"I’m sitting here with tears in my eyes," said one principal reached by the Notebook, who asked not to be identified. "How do I run my school?"

Another principal described the new cuts as "devastating." Principals will find out the exact amount of the cut for their school on Friday.

"These are the types of very difficult challenges and/or changes we’ve got to make to close the gap we announced a couple of weeks ago," said Nunery.

Nunery said that the District is prepared to help principals make cuts without laying off additional personnel. But he conceded that layoffs might be required.

"These are hard cuts to make, there’s no question," said District spokesperson Fernando Gallard. Gallard said the reductions in school operating budgets will save the District $10 million this year.

An additional $5.1 million in savings will come from the elimination of 18 vacant and 51 filled school nurse positions. The ratio of student per nurse will grow from 750:1 to 870:1. But Nunery said that "those kids who are more medically sensitive or have greater health needs should not be affected by this."

In addition, the practice of monitoring students who take desegregation buses will also be eliminated. Some students are still bused to schools outside their neighborhoods under a longstanding desegregation program, but the legal decree is now moot and the monitoring is no longer required.

A plan to make further cuts to school budgets was first announced in an October financial report to the School Reform Commission. An announcement of additional cuts to English language learner services, psychologists, instrumental music, athletics, and educational technology, and bilingual counseling assistants is still anticipated. The letter describes the total remaining budget gap as "no less than $39 million."

At a typical school with an operating budget of $2 million, a cut of 1 to 3 percent could represent a reduction of anywhere from $20,000 to $60,000.