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Budget: Red alert

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

If the District’s 2011 and 2012 cutbacks of teachers, nurses, support staff, and programs felt catastrophic, it is hard to find the words to describe what is about to hit us. The School District’s five-year financial plan calls for its payroll to be cut 16 percent in 2013 (or $137 million), plus a 5 percent cut in benefit costs.

Some will say “Cut the central office,” but spending at 440 has already been slashed. And teacher salaries in Philadelphia already lag far behind their suburban counterparts. This budget crisis cannot be solved largely on their backs.

In these circumstances, saying the District should “live within its means” is unreasonable. The only way to avoid potentially disastrous conflicts is to secure more revenue. The five-year plan counts on no increase in the state subsidy and only a modest $35 million boost from the city. It’s vital that the different constituencies in the city unite to demand adequate funding from the city and state – putting aside other differences for now.

The city must take action to address the longstanding issue of delinquent property taxes and the growing issue of its huge nonprofit sector that does not pay real estate tax. The mayor should take the lead on identifying new revenues. Banks and the local business community should be called upon to help. And underfunded districts across the state need to become a force to be reckoned with in Harrisburg.

The city’s education advocacy groups should not be fighting these battles on their own. Message to our elected officials and civic leaders: Time to step up!

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