Philadelphia schools will end another year in red

Part 62 of 62 in the series Educating America

The School District of Philadelphia is looking at a year-end hole in its budget.

By Maura Pennington | Watchdog.org

PHILADELPHIA — The School District of Philadelphia seeks $320 million to invest in its ambitious Action Plan 2.0, but continues to operate with such persistent fiscal mismanagement that it will be ending the year with a negative balance.

According to the district’s chief financial officer, Matthew Stanski, even with gap closing measures, Philadelphia public schools will carry a $14.2 million deficit into 2015.

Spending on special education, transportation and food service exceeded expectations, while the record-setting winter storms have broken the budget for snow removal and utilities.

At the School Reform Commission meeting Thursday that was packed with protesters, Stanski warned of the additional risk of growing charter school enrollment.

“Charter school payments are higher than expected,” he noted.

A member of the crowd shouted, “Don’t pay them.”

The district is trying to close the hole with other tactics that won’t harm schools.

A reduction in central office budgets and a hiring freeze for central office positions will save the district almost $5 million. An unplanned boost in Medicaid funding from the federal government will contribute $2.1 million.

The district will closely monitor tax collection this spring, but current projected revenues will not be enough.

Based on Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget proposal, Philadelphia schools will be getting an additional $29 million, but the district requires at least $80 million to maintain its services next year.

And there are only so many sources of money for education.

The public knows this. Attendees at Thursday’s meeting jeered throughout Stanski’s entire financial report.

“There’s a lot we can work on together regardless of your position on any particular issue, including the fact that we don’t control our revenue, we only control our costs,” responded Commissioner Bill Green, the new chair of the SRC.

The district has to adopt a budget for 2015 by the end of May.

Contact Maura Pennington at mpennington@watchdog.org and follow her on Twitter @whatsthefracas.

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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