This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
[Updated 11:30 p.m.] Cutting back to half-day kindergarten across the city, eliminating transportation services for most District students, and slashing school discretionary budgets by nearly one-third are just a few of the grim new District budget measures announced Wednesday.
District Chief Financial Officer Michael Masch outlined the 2011-12 District budget at an afternoon press briefing and again at a special budget hearing after Wednesday’s regular meeting of the School Reform Commission. Faced with the unhappy task of closing a $629 million gap representing a full 20 percent of the system’s budget, he repeatedly expressed his openness to any ideas for a better way to deal with the financial predicament.
One opportunity will be the first of six community meetings on the budget, which takes place next Tuesday, May 3 at 6 p.m. at Meredith Elementary in Queen Village.
The SRC was getting its first look at the full budget at the evening session. Coming on the heels of a marathon afternoon meeting, the commission’s discussion was brief, but the gutting of the District’s transportation program provoked pointed questions from commissioners. Roughly 50,000 students would lose their bus service or free TransPasses.
"These cuts were agonized over, and thought about carefully, and considered deeply, and represent our best effort to present to you a plan that is realistic and balanced," Masch responded. But he said the challenge facing the system was "unprecedented."
"There’s never been an instance in which resources have declined this much in a single year," he said. "We didn’t have any good choices; we only had bad choices. We’re open to any good idea for how to do this better than what we have before you."
District budget materials and other documents provided stark details about upcoming cuts, including the first estimates of the number of positions that will need to be eliminated to close a $629 million gap:
If Governor Corbett’s budget proposal is passed, the District will be forced to cut the workforce by more than 3,800 (16%), including over 400 members of Central Office staff, accounting for a 50% personnel reduction at District headquarters, and 1,260 teachers (12%). Nearly 650 Noontime Aides, almost 400 Custodians, over 180 Counselors and 51 Nurses would also face job loss.
The cuts are prompted by what Masch called "an unprecedented level of decline" in District funding. Overall District revenue will decrease by $377 million, or 12 percent. He said it is the first time in decades that the District has faced a revenue decline.
"Virtually every cut is a cut in positions," said Masch. The budget "is balanced with a great deal of pain."
Families of young children face cuts in early childhood education on top of the end of full-day kindergarten. A statement from the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers decried the fact that 1,000 fewer preschoolers will be served by early childhood programs next year.
The scaling back of kindergarten, Masch said, "was one of the most painful decisions. … We’re hoping it doesn’t take place."
The District’s "budget in brief" document, released Wednesday, includes sections describing how the financial situation could get worse and how it could get better in the next few months, depending mainly on funding and legislative decisions in Harrisburg.
With bad funding news, he said the District might have to cut the remaining funding in areas such as instrumental music ($6.7 million), summer school ($21 million), athletics ($7.1 million), and the remaining half-day kindergarten program ($25 million).