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Michael Masch, former budget secretary of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia budget director, and CFO of city schools, dies at 70

Since 2015, Mr. Masch had been the senior vice president, chief financial officer, and treasurer at Howard University.

In this file photo, Mr. Masch, as the Philadelphia School District's chief financial officer, goes over paperwork at a public meeting in 2011.
In this file photo, Mr. Masch, as the Philadelphia School District's chief financial officer, goes over paperwork at a public meeting in 2011.Read moreFILE PHOTO: TOM GRALISH/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Michael Masch, 70, of Philadelphia, a longtime financial and operations manager for Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and several academic institutions, died Sunday, Feb. 7, at his home in Washington. The cause of death is pending the results of laboratory tests. He had been living with diabetes.

Well known in political and academic circles, Mr. Masch served as the secretary of budget and administration for the state under former Gov. Ed Rendell from 2003-08. He had been the Philadelphia budget director from 1992-96 when Rendell was mayor, and later served as the chief financial officer of the School District of Philadelphia from 2008-12.

He also had worked as vice president for budget and management at the University of Pennsylvania, senior policy analyst and researcher for the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, and vice president for finance and chief financial officer at Manhattan College.

Since 2015, Mr. Masch had been the senior vice president, chief financial officer, and treasurer at Howard University.

“He had a passion for helping elevate our university and enhancing our prestige and reputation across the country and throughout the world,” Howard’s president, Wayne A. I. Frederick, said in a statement. “Michael was a man of impeccable integrity and humility. He was kind and gentle with everyone.”

In an online biography, Mr. Masch described his talents as “eliminating deficits, restoring budget balance, maintaining financial stability, [and] instituting major improvements in organizational efficiency and effectiveness.”

He also liked to sing and dance, and nearly everyone has a story of him doing that. He loved the Mummers Parade, and James Bond movies. He faced criticism for his academic record — he never earned an undergraduate degree — and failure to pay his property taxes on time. He owed $8,300 over two years in 2011. But he was known as scrupulously honest and dedicated to Philadelphia.

“He was exuberant about everything,” said his wife, Rachel Falkove Masch. “He loved to work. He liked big challenges and wanted to do everything to the fullest.”

“He was a giant kid in a man’s body,” said his son Solomon Masch.

Mr. Masch was born Oct. 14, 1950. He was adopted as a child and raised in Southwest Philadelphia and graduated from Central High School in 1968.

Mr. Masch attended Temple University for four years as an urban studies major but dropped out on the verge of graduation. Later, due to his extensive professional experience, he graduated from the Fels Institute of Government at Penn with a master’s degree in government and public administration.

“Schools couldn’t keep up with him,” his wife said.

Politically active as a youth, Mr. Masch burned his draft card at City Hall, crusaded against the war in Vietnam, and engaged in numerous other acts of civil disobedience. He announced at freshman orientation at Temple, where he met his wife, that he hoped to major in “making the revolution.”

He wrote for the Jewish Exponent and worked as an editor and writer for the Drummer, a weekly newspaper that served the region’s counterculture audience in the 1970s. Mr. Masch devoured comic books, amassing more than 40,000. A highlight of his life was attending a comics convention with his son.

Mr. Masch was also active in the Jewish community and embraced “do-it-yourself Judaism,” his wife said.

Mr. Masch entered public life when he got a job on the technical staff of Philadelphia’s City Council. Later, when he worked for Mayor Rendell, Mr. Masch, among other things, helped create the Philly Phlash downtown loop transit line, naming it after the Flash, one of his favorite DC comics characters.

“Elected officials get the glory and the blame, but I don’t know a more impactful public servant for the city, the state and the school district than Mike Masch,” Rendell said. “He served them all very well, and he squeezed every dime for the taxpayer.”

As CFO of the school district, he helped restore the district to balanced and surplus budgets, and restructured long-term debt. He also was criticized for failing to overcome budget cuts from the state as the district struggled to find funding during the recession in 2010. Critics called his budget estimations “Masch-a-matics.”

“That was a very difficult time, but he was really driven to serve,” said Fernando Gallard, the former head of communications for the school district. “Despite the problems, he was always open and available. He put himself out there.”

As the state’s secretary of budget and administration, he eliminated state deficits and produced surpluses from 2003-07, increased state funding for Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts, and created the Pennsylvania Office of Performance Improvement to measure and improve operational performance of state agencies.

“He was a financial wizard,” Rendell said. “He was scholarly and brainy, yet he liked to be in the thick of things.”

In addition to his wife and sons, Solomon and Ezra, Mr. Masch is survived by two grandsons and other relatives.

Services were held Sunday.

Donations in his name may be made to the Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network, 7047 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia, Pa. 19119.