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If the “catastrophic” budget picture Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. laid out Thursday comes to pass, city schools will be virtually unrecognizable come September.
A $304 million deficit would mean no money for counselors or librarians. There would be no sports or extracurricular activities. There would be no funds for secretaries, aides or summer school. Three thousand district employees, including teachers, could be laid off.
This doomsday scenario comes as a result of a $304 million deficit for the district’s 2013-14 budget. Officials have asked for $120 million in additional funding from the state and $60 million from the city, as well as $133 million in concessions from labor unions. But none of that money is guaranteed.
“Too many budgets and contracts in the past were being based on what we had hoped for and not necessarily what was real,” Hite said.
Laying out the grimmest possible reality is a strategic move, as the district makes its case to Harrisburg and City Hall for more funding, and sits at the negotiating table with its unions, including the 15,000-member Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.
But the $220 million in additional school-based cuts are a very real possibility. Union officials have said they won’t bow to demands for big concessions, and while Mayor Nutter has signaled his support for the district’s ask, early signs from the state are not promising and City Council also seems skeptical.
This year, the district borrowed $300 million just to heat buildings and pay employees. That’s not an option going forward, Hite and Chief Financial Officer Matthew Stanski said.
“To continue to borrow just continues to put the district on the path to bankruptcy,” said Hite.
Principals will receive their individual school budgets on Friday. They will receive only enough money to fund a principal and teachers based on the contractual class size maximum, 33 for older grades and 30 for kindergarten through third grade.
“We can’t afford anything else,” Hite said. “Schools will not be able to offer everything that’s mandated, both by statute or contract. We’re making a judgment call.”
It’s unclear what the ramifications of flouting contracts and state law might be.
Schools, under this scenario, would still offer services for special education students and English language learners, which are also mandated by law, but those funds will come from the district, not their individual budgets. There will also still be school police, food services, transportation and school nurses, but fewer nurses - the current ratio is 1 nurse per 1,000 students; it will go up to the maximum of 1 to 1,500.