Philadelphia Superintendent Sees ‘Doomsday’ Budget Projection

What will Philadelphia schools look like if the anticipated revenue streams from the city and the state, as well as concessions from unions, don’t materialize this summer? According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, not much like schools.

Although there will still be buildings and classrooms and presumablystudents, there will be no counselors, librarians, summer school staff or extra-curricular activities. This will all be in addition to more than 3,000 layoffs including at least some instructional positions.

The changes will be implemented to close more than $300 million in deficits from the district’s $2.7 billion total budget.

It’s no wonder that the district Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. called this the “catastrophic” budget. It was Hite’s intention to draw the grimmest picture possible as he lobbies state and city lawmakers for more money at the same time as he sits down with union reps to renegotiate existing contracts.

But $220 million in additional school-based cuts is a very real possibility. Union officials have said they would not bow to demands for big concessions, and while Mayor Nutter has signaled his support for the district’s request, early signs from the state are not promising and City Council seems skeptical.

Even Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said this budget picture could come to pass.
“Clearly, this is a possibility,” Jordan said. “Our kids are in the middle.”

Commissioner Wendell Pritchett called it a “sobering presentation” that would cut not frills, but “basic things that every child should have.”

This year the district has had to borrow $300 million just to meet its operating expenses, an option that is not on the table next year according to Chief Financial Officer Matthew Stanski. He said that to keep borrowing instead of developing new revenue streams would be just pushing forward the inevitable problems and putting the district on the path to insolvency.

Instead, principals will be receiving budgets that will ask them to make cuts up to 25% with enough money only to fund the absolute minimum: costs for classes at to the contractual maximum and the teachers to staff them. Hite said that this is the limit of what the district can presently afford.

There is little room left to maneuver, Hite said. Many costs are rising – the district will pay more for employee benefits and must contribute more to pension funds – or fixed, including $280 million in debt service and $729 million for charter schools.
(The School Reform Commission on Thursday night budgeted up to $15 million over two years for a new cyber school, but officials have said that the figure was a ceiling and that the virtual school would bring back students now in cyber charters, meaning savings for the district.)

Charter advocates are pushing hard for a number of expansions, but those seem unlikely.

“We are not crying wolf,” Hite said. “Our budget situation is dire.”