Pittsburgh Public Schools was recently found in an audit to have accumulated the largest surplus of any school district in the state of Pennsylvania despite predictions by the district that it was headed toward financial ruin.
It is estimated that the district will complete the year with a surplus of $900,000.
The new budget came only hours after state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale determined the previous year’s surplus of $129 million in the district to be the largest in the state, calling the district “the most successful financially run district that we’ve seen in the entire state from an urban perspective.” DePasquale said consistent under-budgeting was the cause of the surplus, while he also wondered whether or not students received the resources necessary to have a high-quality education.
That surplus has been come as a result of four years of staff reductions to match enrollment declines, cutting their debt by $142 million and selling any unused buildings.
DePasquale said the district could save even more if they sold 24 additional plots of unused land and kept better data on the number of non-resident students enrolled in the district, reports Casey Chafin for WESA.
District chief financial officer Ronald Joseph said the fund balance has allowed the district to stay in operation during the state budget impasse. He added that if the Legislature does not approve a state budget in the next month, the district could be forced to take out loans to pay for everyday expenses, writes Clarece Polke for The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
A $570 million budget was recently approved by the board of the Pittsburgh Public Schools, although a millage rate for the upcoming fiscal year has not been determined. A millage rate for real estate taxes is expected to be determined by the board at a special meeting in January.
The budget contains a 2% increase from last year as well as an operating deficit of $23.6 million. No large-scale faculty or staff reductions are including, according to Joseph.
Carey Harris, executive director of educational advocacy group A+ Schools, said a “more predictable and transparent” budget based around students in the district may allow for a base cost of educating students to state standards to be established. At that time, he said funds should be allocated to each school based on enrollment. He added that the formula could be reorganized to give more money to schools with particular students, such as economically disadvantaged, special needs, homeless, or English language students.
“There’s a bunch of resources that are being spent on kids that aren’t necessarily being monitored,” Ms. Harris said before the meeting. “We can’t tell you whether nurses are being equitably distributed. We can’t tell you and we know the district can’t tell you if there’s a rational formula for how those dollars are spent.”
With around 25,000 students and 3,900 employees, the district is the second-largest in the state behind Philadelphia.