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Report: Philly per-pupil spending below 2007 level

A new report commissioned by the district shows pension and health care costs have skyrocketed, consuming much of the budget.

Hite: Must address health-care costs. ( ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER )
Hite: Must address health-care costs. ( ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER )Read moreDN

PHILADELPHIA'S public schools are spending less per child than in 2007, partially due to rising costs for pensions and health care, according to an independent report released yesterday by the school district.

The analysis, conducted by Education Research Strategies Inc., a Massachusetts-based nonprofit research organization, shows the district spent $12,724 per-pupil in 2013-14, down from $13,384 in 2007-08, a 5 percent decline.

District officials said the report bears out what they have been saying for a while - mandated costs are rising faster than revenue, taking precious dollars away from the classroom.

"Although we've done the best we can in terms of containing costs, this is not a problem that can be solved by cutting your way to a solution," Superintendent William Hite said. "You don't solve this by cutting alone. It also has to be coupled with revenue that is recurring."

According to the report - paid for through a grant from the state - pension and health-care benefits account for roughly one-third of teacher compensation, a small portion of which the state reimburses. The district's portion of benefits costs has risen 32 percent since 2010-11. The report does not examine the other two large expenditures for the district: charter schools and debt payments.

The district's per-pupil spending last school year was below peer cities such as Baltimore ($15,624), Cleveland ($15,875) and Washington, D.C. ($17,031), the report said. The median per-pupil spending among the eight cities examined in the report was $15,624.

"The solution really is more funding and it's a combination of state and local funding," said Rob Dubow, the city's finance director. "It's not something we can do alone locally. There has to be [help] from the state."

At the district's request, Mayor Nutter has proposed a property-tax increase to raise an additional $105 million for schools, while Gov. Wolf has proposed $159 million in new aid. Both plans face an uphill battle.

Pennsylvania lawmakers are also crafting a statewide funding formula that would allocate a greater percentage of state funding to poorer districts and less to wealthier ones.

District officials said they plan to share the study with lawmakers in hopes that it strengthens their case for more funding. They also want it to resonate with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, which is contesting changes to their health-care benefits.

"You can't say, 'Keep everything the same [except] this issue [of health-care benefits]' because this issue is going to require more and more revenue every year," Hite said.

PFT president Jerry Jordan said he had not yet read the report, but that management bears some of the blame for the district's financial situation.

"One-third of the district's budget is going to charter school expenses, and those are decisions that the [School Reform Commission] makes relative to educating kids," he said. "But when you're taking one-third of your budget for one expenditure . . . that's a large portion of it."