Philadelphia School District officials are presenting their $3.2 billion budget to City Council today.

Superintendent Arlene Ackerman said that when she arrived in Philadelphia nearly a year ago, she found "social injustice, opportunities lost and dreams deferred far too long."

The district - which educates 195,000 students in traditional public and charter schools - will move away from these practices under the spending plan she proposed, she said.

Key to the budget is Ackerman's ambitious five-year strategic plan, which will cost $126 million next year. Among other things, the superintendent wants to lower class sizes in kindergarten through third grade, hire more guidance counselors, open more early-childhood education centers, and more special education staff.

In all, Ackerman's "Imagine 2014" includes 145 new initiatives for the 2009-10 school year.

Officials say they don't know the total pricetag for all five years of the plan.

Ackerman said the district needs to fix racial inequities, which plague school districts around the country. In Philadelphia, 76 percent of district students who need emotional support are African American. Black and Latino students score about 24 points lower than white students in math and reading, on average.

"Racial disparities in achievement and opportunity throughout the school district indicate that too many of our children have to work twice as hard to get half as far," Ackerman said this morning.

Ackerman said her budget would bring "sustainable, long-term" change to the district.

Chief business officer Michael Masch detailed the spending plan, which retires a deficit that has plagued the district since 2006, when a surprise $180 million gap stunned officials. The budget got a boost from $209 million in federal stimulus money, and assumes $149 million in state aid, although Gov. Rendell's budget has not yet passed the legislature.

"This budget proposal represents and confirms that the school district has returned to financial stability, and given the rough road that the district's been through in the past couple years, that is welcome in and of itself," said Masch, adding that "it advances many of the reforms that Dr. Ackerman has just described for you, and will make them a reality in the next school year."

Contact staff writer Kristen Graham at 215-854-5146 or