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Philadelphia school board adopts $3.4B budget, says no — again — to a new charter

The Philadelphia school board on Thursday night unanimously approved a $3.4 billion budget for the 2019-20 school year, approving new money for math supports, school nurses and teachers for English-language learners.

FILE - Superintendent William R. Hite Jr.  (CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer)
FILE - Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. (CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer)Read more

The Philadelphia school board on Thursday night unanimously approved a $3.4 billion budget for the 2019-20 school year, approving new money for math support, school nurses, and teachers for English-language learners.

The budget represents a 7.1 percent increase in expenditures over the current $3.2 billion spending plan, with cost increases largely driven by payments to charter schools and planned salary increases driven by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers contract.

It projects a modest surplus at the end of fiscal 2020, but the picture is more problematic in the final years of the district’s five-year plan. By 2023, the district is projecting a $262 million budget deficit.

The school board cannot raise its own revenue, but depends on the city, state, and federal governments to fund operations for the 200,000 students in district and charter schools.

Uri Monson, the district’s chief financial officer, noted that the budget is a best guess based on city and state projections, but that two bills soon coming up for hearings before City Council — one increasing the homestead exemption rate to $50,000 and another enacting a tax rate each year that would be “revenue neutral” — could alter the district’s finances considerably. If both are enacted, they would cost the district $42 million next year, and nearly $500 million over the next five years.

More from Thursday’s board meeting:

No to Tacony Academy at St. Vincent’s, yes to 4 charter renewals

The board again unanimously denied Tacony Academy at St. Vincent’s, a new charter proposed by American Paradigm Schools, which operates four charters in Philadelphia. It sought to open in Tacony and enroll 900 K-8 students.

Members didn’t discuss the charter’s revised application before denying it. But district officials said in an evaluation of the application that the charter had not demonstrated how it would improve student academic achievement. It also said the charter’s staffing plan was still insufficient.

The board denied Tacony Academy’s initial application in February, when it also denied two other proposed new charter schools. The charter can appeal to the state Charter Appeals Board.

The board did renew four charter schools — Ad Prima in Overbrook; Belmont Elementary in West Philadelphia; Esperanza Academy in North Philadelphia; and Mariana Bracetti Academy in Frankford. It also approved Mariana Bracetti’s request to enroll an additional 245 students, at the district’s recommendation.

Belmont’s charter had expired in 2017. The renewal agreement came as the charter, part of a network chaired by landlord Michael Karp, hopes to buy the building it leases from the district — a prospect of which several board members disapproved.

“I don’t believe it’s ever appropriate to sell a neighborhood,” said board member Christopher McGinley, referring to the school’s catchment area. The proposal may come before the board in June.

Overcrowding in South Philadelphia schools

Parents from Meredith and Nebinger, two Queen Village elementary schools, asked the board to come up with answers for overcrowding.

Meredith, one of the city’s most popular schools, is overenrolled and sends overflow students to Nebinger, whose parents fear losing their art and music rooms because of the extra children.

Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said that Nebinger would keep its art and music space when school starts, and that long-term solutions would be considered in the school system’s comprehensive planning process, which begins in the fall.

But parents said that process is too slow and immediate fixes are needed.