The city of Philadelphia isn't fiscally responsible by nature (is there an "understatement contest" we can submit that sentence in?). That's why every year, the city has to submit not just a budget, but a five-year financial plan to an independent body called the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, or PICA. This helps the city avoid big, surprise deficits. It's not a perfect system, but it helps.
The school district does no such long-term planning. And yet, lots of folks seem to think long-term planning is a good idea. The mayor calls for it in his letter to the SRC:
The SRC must require of District administrators a detailed five-year plan where revenues, expenditures and basic assumptions are examined clearly and publicly, where the ramifications of decisions now are projected into the future and where all choices are subjected to a new fiscal rigor.
Specifically, the Superintendent and staff shall prepare for review and approval by the SRC and the City a document known as a School District Five Year Plan, which is similar in content and scope to the City of Philadelphia's Five Year Plan as submitted to PICA on an annual basis and provide all documentation and financial/operational materials to explain and justify such a Five Year Plan at the City Finance Director's request and such plan shall be prepared and completed at the same time as the School District of Philadelphia's budget.
Councilman Green calls for it in an op-ed in the Inquirer:
The apparent lack of long-term fiscal planning … has made budget "crises" out of predictable events, such as state budget cuts and the end of federal stimulus funding.
To correct these problems, the district needs additional oversight measures - such as, for instance, five-year spending plans approved by Council.
Helen Gym, of Parents United for Public Education, has called for long-term planning as well.
The point all these folks differ on is who the district should submit its plans to; the mayor (unsurprisingly) says the mayor, while Green (unsurprisingly) says Council. Gym says PICA.
Let's put that aside for the moment. Is there an argument against bringing long-term financial planning to the schools? District CFO Michael Masch kinda-sorta tries to make one to Dave Davies:
"If we make the assumption that there are no guaranteed increases in funding, then we would have a five year plan with no revenue growth and constant growth in spending," Masch told me, "and it would be a plan in which we propose spending cuts every year, and those cuts would be deeper and deeper as the years went on."
He was on a roll.
"Anything other than that would require us to make assumptions about what elected officials who operate independently of us are going to do," he added, "and given election cycles, in some cases we wouldn't even know who those officials were going to be."
But, as Davies points out, lots of government officials make assumptions about revenues. In fact, assumptions about city revenues, a major piece of the school district's pie, should be easy to make because the city publishes them in a five-year plan.
Maybe we're missing some other argument against this, and if so, we're happy to hear it down in comments. But otherwise, mark "long-term planning for schools" down as one thing that should definitely happen as a result of the district budget fiasco. Otherwise, someone screwed up.