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Philly schools facing $320 million deficit

For another year, school district officials will have to ask the city and state for additional funding.

FOR THE SECOND straight year, the Philadelphia School District is staring at a more than $300 million shortfall for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

That's according to a lump-sum budget adopted last night by the School Reform Commission, which lays out broad projections of revenue and expenses. The forecast anticipates $2.8 billion in expenses, with $2.5 billion in revenues, leaving a deficit of $320 million.

"Based on our current financial picture, we are still left without adequate funding to provide even the most basic services for our students," SRC chairman Bill Green said. "We are again in a position to ask for additional funding."

Of the projected shortfall, the district said it needs $100 million just to maintain staffing levels, while the full figure requested would allow the district to begin implementing the initiatives in Superintendent William Hite's Action Plan 2.0, focused on getting all students to graduate ready for college and careers.

The anticipated revenue assumes $120 million from an extension of the extra 1 percent sales tax approved by the General Assembly last year, but not yet adopted by City Council. Officials said they are "fairly confident" the money will come through, but if it doesn't, Green cautioned, "it will be a very bad day."

Facing a $304 million deficit last year, the district asked for $180 million in new money from the state and city. It eventually received $112 million, but about 90 percent of that was from onetime funds.

Before last night's meeting, public-education supporters rallied outside the district's headquarters on Broad Street near Spring Garden to support a proposal from state Sen. Vincent Hughes. The proposal is aimed at raising an extra $375 million for schools by imposing a 5 percent severance tax on natural-gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale region.

Hughes, a Democrat from Philadelphia, claimed the plan is drawing broad-based support across the state. It likely faces an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Legislature.