Pennsylvania budget deal appears to leave Philadelphia short

July 17, 2007
Officials say the school district needs another $20 million in funding to close its spending gap.

The budget agreement reached by Pennsylvania lawmakers appears to leave the Philadelphia School District about $20 million shy of the extra state funding it needed to help close a deficit in its $2.18 billion budget. District officials emphasized that numbers were preliminary. The district already is making $100 million in cuts and cost savings to avoid a deficit. The cost savings started last month with the elimination of 170 administrative positions, including 46 layoffs.
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EARLIER: Philadelphia City Controller Alan Butkovitz wants his office to have more oversight and greater authority in reviewing school district budgets. He says district officials who preside over poor financial decisions should face sanctions, just as top managers who succeed are awarded with bonuses. Butkovitz says his office should have "pre-audit" authority, meaning that it could review expenses of the current budget year. Now, it reviews the budget after the fiscal year has closed.
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The Philadelphia School District overspent its budget in each of the last four years and failed to use sound financial management controls that would have signaled trouble, leading to the deficit that emerged last fall. A long-awaited report on district finances also finds that the overspending paid off in substantial academic improvement, and both state and city officials say more funding is warranted to continue the improvement.
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The Philadelphia School Reform Commission has adopted a $2.18 billion budget with cuts in personnel and programs, including the arts. The cuts could become more severe f the district fails to secure $63 million in additional state and city funding. District officials have warned that they would cut some nurses, librarians and counselors, as well as busing and other areas, without the additional funding.
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Against the stated wishes of Philadelphia Mayor John Street, a majority of City Council members have given preliminary approval to a plan to increase funding for the Philadelphia School District by $18.4 million next year.
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The Philadelphia School District will have to make $67 million in program cuts next year unless it receives substantial amounts of additional funding from the city and state, district officials say. And the district's ability to get all of that extra funding seems shaky at best. Everything from school counselors to librarians to extracurricular activities could be affected if the district must make the cuts. (Philadelphia Inquirer)

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