The School District of Philadelphia is learning what every taxpayer has known for years: that sometimes no matter how hard you try and what items you eliminate from your daily budget it might not be enough.
Although the district has been experiencing an inefficiency of funds that has not always been the case. At the end of the 2005-2006 school year they actually had money left over; about $50 million.
Seems kind of ironic now don’t you think?
That money was what was left over from a $300 million city bond in 2002 that was supposed to bail them out from any financial problems and was a type of promise that the district could be financially stable. Apparently $300 million doesn’t go as far as it used to in the good old days – circa 1990.
Somehow the money that was supposed to be spent towards financial stability was budgeted wrong. It was mishandled and unaccounted for which seems to be a recurring theme within the school district.
The school district’s solution, as it always is, was to cut staff. It also cut 30% of the money that went to the schools.
They also cut the number of teachers in the schools. Philly Superintendent at that time Paul Vallas proposed $70 million in cuts as well as other cost-saving measures which were actually pretty sound, but the SRC rejected his suggestions.
Instead they organized an audit committee and made 20% in cuts that affected employees who worked at the administration level as well as cuts in various contracts.
Now everyone climb on the transporter to get to the year 2012.
At the end of the 2012-2013 school year the doomsday administrators at the school district estimated that they were going to be $282 million short of what they needed, but they didn’t want to borrow more than $218 million. Well at least they were trying to be frugal.
At that time the school district was placing the blame on the city because the Actual Value Initiative (AVI) bill had not been approved by City Council; that the district was counting on getting an additional $94 million. You don’t have to be a mathlete to know that $94 million is nowhere near $282 million, but that’s what the school district has had to do; they had to accept whatever they could get.
In May of this year the SRC almost unanimously (4-1) approved a $2.4 million budget which meant those essential employees such as counselors, librarians, art and music teachers as well as other support personnel would be eliminated. Money for little incidentals such as books and copy paper was also gone.
The media even gave it the catchy name of a doomsday budget.
As usual deluded politicians led the yearly cry for an elected school board which won’t solve the current problem and won’t even be able to be proposed or a bill created that can be voted on until 2015. As she usually does Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell attempted to lead the charge, but the charge was dead.
Mayor “I have a plan” Nutter proposed raising $95 million by creating a $2 cigarette tax per pack and raising the city's liquor-by-the-drink tax from 10 percent to 15 percent which meant that rich people and young adults would stop drinking in bars. They would simply purchase bottles in state stores so they could drink them out on the street like every other Philadelphian does already. As par the course the Republican-controlled state capitol shot it down.
Hite had been successful before so he turned to the city asking for $60 million, but once again settled for an offer of $50 million. To add an additional burden to the budget problems Governor Tom Corbett was refusing to release the $45 million that the state owed the district until the PFT made concessions which they did not and even let the contract lapse instead of negotiating a new one.
The city agreed to give the $50 million in August, but it never happened because City Council President Darrell Clarke didn’t like how Mayor Nutter suggested that they get the money. The two contenders knowing a political move when they saw one continued to butt heads over who had the better idea.
Still unwilling to help themselves the district considered and then rejected selling their art collection which was considered to be valued at $35 million, but claimed that it’s estimated to be only worth $1 million. Once again you don’t have to be a mathlete to know that $1 million is better than no million.
Halloween treats came early for the beleaguered school district when Corbett finally released the $45 million, but not because it was the right thing to do for the students. He did it because it was the right thing to do for his political career.
Finally Nutter and Clarke settled their schoolyard dispute and came together to agree on a plan to come up with the money albeit the mayor had to go along to get along.
Even with the $95 million they will now get the district has to understand that the money will only go so far and that they need to spend it frugally which won’t be easy for them. It's also important for Hite to realize that he got $1 million more than what he originally asked for. See how that works Dr. Hite? That extra $1 million really made a difference didn't it?
In addition Moveon.org is crowing that they won; that through their efforts the school district got the money, but in reality they didn't win anything because the district continues to struggle and will until they get their financial house together.
They also have to consider the Council of Seventy’s stern advice that the school district, mayor and council find a way to better fund the schools; that they have suggested putting in place a 2% spending reduction and a 1% cut.
Let’s only hope that they can follow the Council’s advice and get the financial ball back in their court.