The Philadelphia School District and the city are forming a joint task force to study ways to share services and save money.

The task force is likely to make recommendations within six months, with any resulting savings being reflected for the 2009-10 fiscal year.

Headed by Mayor Nutter's chief education officer, Lori Shorr, and district leaders, the task force will look at myriad areas, such as safety, human resources, legal, health, social services, risk management and technology.

The announcement of the task force came yesterday morning as district leaders presented their proposed $2.3 billion budget to City Council, an annual ritual that occurs before the School Reform Commission adopts a final spending plan in May.

The presentation and questions from Council members ran for more than four hours and will resume at 10 a.m. today. Members of the public are scheduled to present testimony from 1:30 to 3 p.m. and again at 5 if more time is needed.

Council President Anna C. Verna said she was pleased with the answers from the district. District officials told Council that although the proposed budget contains a $38.9 million deficit, a plan to erase it will be included when the budget is adopted May 28.

"I think from what I have seen and heard to date, it's a much better School District [budget] than I've seen in quite some time," Verna said.

She said she was pleased with the plans for a task force on shared services.

"I think that would really be something - if it's doable - that . . . could save quite a bit of money," she said.

Interim Chief Executive Officer Tom Brady, who announced the task force along with School Reform Commission Chairwoman Sandra Dungee Glenn, said the group also would look at after-school programs, energy-savings possibilities, and other areas.

"We'll look for opportunities to see if we can be more efficient and effective," Brady said.

Dungee Glenn said some savings could be implemented before the next fiscal year.

"If they stumble on things they can do immediately, we're not going to wait," she said.

Brady and Dungee Glenn also fielded a variety of questions from Council members on dropout rates, class sizes, charter schools, truancy and other issues.

One of the more tense moments came when Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr. asked if the district had "dropout factories," referring to a national study that came out in October and talked about high schools that lose large numbers of students. More than 20 Philadelphia high schools were listed as dropout factories in the study.

Brady acknowledged that the district does have high schools with many dropouts.

In an interview later, however, he said he objected to the label

dropout factory

.

"But clearly we have some high schools that need some intervention, dramatic intervention, and we're in the process of doing that," he said.

Contact staff writer Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or ssnyder@phillynews.com

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