Philly schools will beg city and state to help close $242 M deficit

The struggling Philadelphia School District, hoping to close a $242 million budget shortfall for next school year, plans to slash labor costs by another 10 percent and hope for a huge influx of cash from the state and city.

In a press briefing Thursday afternoon, Superintendent William Hite told reporters the district will ask for $120 million from Harrisburg and $60 million from City Hall, part of a painful effort to fix the district’s “structural deficit” without again resorting to borrowing money to pay its bills.

“I’m agnostic on the ‘how’ [legislators come up with the new revenue],” said Hite.  “We’ll take anything.”

The School Reform Commission is voting Thursday evening to approve the so-called “lump-sum budget,” which totals $2.6 billion. For the third straight school year, the district is making deep and painful cuts to balance its books as it deals with sharp reductions in state and federal aid as well as its own poor financial planning.

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The $133 million in hoped-for savings from personnel costs are to be achieved by concessions from workers, not further reductions in force. Officials hope to save millions more by reducing contracts with outside vendors, streamlining the district’s transportation system, cutting another 8 percent out of the district’s central administrative budget, and using less energy.

“We are seeking multiple ways to address the challenges that we face,” said Hite. “We’re trying not to impact schools any more than they’ve been impacted already.”

But while the district isn’t planning on further cutting schools’ already decimated operating budgets except where enrollments declined, the loss of millions of dollars in federal grant money this year — due to sequestration, the expiration of stimulus funds, the expiration of grants from the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Education, and cuts in Title 1 funding, among others — will mean more direct hits on the city’s classrooms.

All told, said Hite, that could mean $134 million less next year for “highly impacted groups of students,” including those who have special needs, who speak English as a second language, and who are eligible for free lunch.

Details of the district’s budget must be finalized by May 31, pending the resolution of state and city budgets.

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that the total budget is $2.3 billion and that the deficit was $304 million.

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