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State leaves District with $35M more to cut

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

The state budget likely to be approved by Wednesday will mean that the School District must find another $35 million in cuts on top of those already made, District officials said Tuesday.

To close a $629 million budget gap, the District has made more than 3,000 layoffs and slashed programs and services including school counselors, nurses, arts and music teachers, and sports. Individual school budgets are hard hit, and half the central office staff is being eliminated.

In preparing its 2011-12 budget, the District had counted on $57 million in additional money from Harrisburg. Instead, it will received just $22 million extra, Chief Financial Officer Michael Masch said.

"It will be a challenge to identify options in terms of further adjustments," to the budget, Masch said. He gave no timetable for making the decision, nor did he say what those additional cuts might be.

Gov. Corbett’s initial budget proposal sliced education spending by more than $1 billion, with Philadelphia absorbing a quarter of that amount, nearly $300 million.

While the General Assembly added $228 million in education aid back into Corbett’s budget, only $22 million will come to the city, Masch said. The net result is still a 9.7 percent cut in state aid for Philadelphia.

That compares to a statewide average cut for districts of 6.65 percent, he said.

Philadelphia lobbied hard for the restoration of $57 million in charter school reimbursement money, to no avail. Corbett eliminated all charter school reimbursement funds from his budget, and the legislature agreed. Since Philadelphia has more than half the charter schools in the state, it bears the brunt of the impact of that decision.

The additional $22 million to Philadelphia comes from the restoration of $100 million in Accountability Block Grant funds by the General Assembly. Corbett had also wanted to eliminate that funding stream, which has paid for such programs as early childhood education and full-day kindergarten.

City Council and the mayor came up with an extra $53 million for the District but Council specified that it be used for accelerated schools for dropouts and near-dropouts, for maintaining smaller classes in kindergarten through third grade, for yellow bus service for students in District and non-public schools, and for early childhood education.

The level of state aid was not the only tenuous assumption in the District’s gap-closing plan. Another showdown is looming: The budget counts on $75 million in union concessions, primarily asking workers to forego negotiated raises and other increments.

So far, the District’s five unions have not agreed to anything, and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has threatened to go to court if its contract is breached. The School Reform Commission has the power under state law to cancel collective bargaining agreements and has threatened to do so. The SRC has given the unions until June 30 to reach a new agreement.

Masch said that without those concessions, the District might be forced to lay off another 800 workers.

"I’m not saying that is what will happen, but that’s how many people $75 million pays for," he said.

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