The School Reform Commission yesterday approved an amended $3.1 billion budget for the current school year that includes trims to school budgets and special education.
The budget contains a big jump in spending, despite receiving $182 million less in state aid than anticipated.
Chief Business Officer Michael Masch laid out the numbers at a low-key special commission meeting attended by no members of the public.
The budget includes $112 million to implement the first year of "Imagine 2014," the district's five-year strategic plan, which provides for, among other things, smaller class sizes in early grades and more counselors in schools.
There is still no money in the spending plan for raises for unionized workers. The district's five unions, including the 16,000-member Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, are negotiating new pacts. All of the contracts expire in January. But there is a spending increase of nearly 12 percent over last year's budget.
"That is one of the largest single-year increases that we have seen in the School District in many years," said Masch.
That's notable in a harsh economic climate, but the increases were made possible by federal stimulus funds made available to school districts this year. The district received about $188 million in stimulus dollars, some of which was funneled through the state.
Federal officials have urged districts to use the stimulus money for one-time projects and not to depend on it for recurring expenses. Philadelphia was not able to do that, Masch said.
So, to continue to finance things like reduced class size, the district will need "further management efficiencies or economic recovery" to keep the initiatives alive, Masch said.
"We worry about it very much," he said.
Midyear budget revisions do not typically need commission approval, but officials decided to get a formal vote on these because of the dramatically altered picture in the form of lowered state aid. This year, Pennsylvania legislators went 101 days with no state budget, and the pact they finally approved meant the $182 million gap for the district.
Masch is banking on more revenue than expected in the forms of a higher-than-planned surplus from last year's budget and more federal Title I money than expected.
Still, trims were necessary. Savings include a reduction in the central administration budget; a cut in noninstructional spending; scuttling plans to open an additional re-engagement center for dropouts and at-risk youth; and putting off computer-system upgrades.
There's also a cut of about 0.5 percent in individual schools' discretionary budgets.
Asked if principals had been notified of the cut, which amounts to a savings of about $1.2 million, Masch said: "I hope so."
Michael Lerner, president of the principals' union, said his members had not heard a word.
"They have neither been notified nor consulted on the budget cuts," said Lerner.
Commissioner Johnny Irizarry asked Masch about the special-education budget. Masch said the district was able to reduce costs by dismantling some "self-contained" classrooms and putting those children into regular education classrooms with teachers able to teach students at multiple levels.
Masch said the district was doing this "when it is appropriate, and only when it is appropriate. There is absolutely no reduction in special-education services."
The budget passed by 4-0. Commissioner Joseph Dworetzky was not present.