Red Ink Revisits Phila. Schools
Spending cuts, audit follow in wake of budget shortfall.
Nearly five years after a budget crisis helped prompt state officials to take over the Philadelphia public schools, Pennsylvania’s largest district is grappling again with financial woes.
Faced with a $73.3 million shortfall in a $1.8 billion annual budget, Chief Executive Officer Paul G. Vallas outlined spending cuts to bridge the gap for members of the School Reform Commission and the public last week.
Mr. Vallas called for eliminating 150 administrative positions, cutting pay for administrators who earn more than $100,000 a year, and reducing payments to the six outside managers who run 45 schools in the city.
“We’re not touching anything in the schools,” said Amy Guerin, a spokeswoman for the district. “We are not cutting teachers, not cutting arts and music, not coaches, nurses, or librarians.”
News of the deficit, announced last month, has prompted sharp criticism of Mr. Vallas, the district’s chief since 2002 and a former schools chief and city budget director in Chicago. Members of the reform commission, which serves as the school board, also have been lambasted for the 178,000-student district’s unexpected financial slide.
The panel has hired a former district official to do an audit.
Mr. Vallas told the The Philadelphia Inquirer last month that several factors caused the shortfall, including a large number of retirements, especially among teachers who were paid for accrued sick days, personal days, and other benefits, a lower-than-expected return of unspent funds from schools, and an increase in payments to charter schools.
The local teachers’ union disputes some of Mr. Vallas’ explanation for the gap, particularly the retirements, which totaled 389. “The retirements are almost always between 200 and 400 each year,” said Barbara Goodman, the spokeswoman for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, a 21,000-member affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.
Ms. Goodman said the union is calling for a moratorium on charter schools. The district spends too much on them, she said.
“The district, no doubt, has been moving in a positive direction over these last few years,” Ms. Goodman said. “So what’s happening now is very distressing, like we are going back to the bad days.”
Vol. 26, Issue 12, Page 5