HERE ARE the school district's responses to a few of the specific factual errors in the two June 3
articles about the school district budget:
In "Dollars & Sense: How to Cut the School Budget, Avoid New Taxes, and Teach Everybody Something," by Howard Gensler:
The DN article: If the Newspaper Guild and our bosses could cut $6 million out of our $46 million payroll budget, then the city and the school district can cut $110 million from their multibillion-dollar pit of quicksand.
School District of Philadelphia: The district's 2010-11 "payroll budget" is $1.4 billion. The district's 2011-12 budget already contains more than $600 million in spending cuts and gap-closing measures. This is a much larger cut than what Gensler is advocating for the district to come up with.
DN: City schools are in free-fall. We're spending a fortune we don't have to get unprepared workers and low graduation rates. It should not be acceptable to spend even more money to get poor results.
SDP: The percentage of students in district-operated public schools performing at grade level in reading and math has increased 175 percent since 2002, from 20 to 55 percent. The percentage of students in Philadelphia public charter schools performing at grade level in reading and math has increased from 20 to 60 percent.
Philadelphia has more successful public schools than anywhere else in the state. Sixty percent of district-operated public schools (158 schools) and 70 percent of Philadelphia's public charter schools (46 schools) are making "adequate yearly progress," according to federal and state standards. The graduation rate has increased each year in the last five and the six-year graduation rate now stands at 63 percent. No one in the district is satisfied with these results, and the district's goal is to accelerate the improvement of the last eight years. But there is NO basis for saying that city public schools are "in free-fall."
DN: Here at the paper, where I have a better understanding of where the money goes, I could cut a few hundred grand before you reach the end of this column. It's far more difficult balancing the budget of the Nation of Ackermania . . . I turned to the district's numbers from last year, which are so vague on its website that I could only make "educated" guesses . . . But based on the numbers at www.phila.k12.pa.us/about, the adopted operating budget for 2010-2011 was about $2.4 billion for 155,000 students, K-12.
SDP: The district budget website is www.phila.k12.pa.us/budget. The link is right on the district home page. The website Gensler cites was never intended to be a source of district budget information.
DN: Based on the numbers at phila.k12.pa. us/about, the district's adopted operating budget for 2010-2011 was about $2.4 billion for 155,000 students, K-12. That's $15,963 per student (close to $30,000 per student if you count only the ones who graduate high school), which seems like a substantial sum of money to get so little in return.
SDP: The district is actually serving 198,600 K-12 students in 2011 - more than 43,000 in charter schools and more than 155,000 in district-operated schools. The total 2010-11 budget is $3.1 billion.
It's misleading to divide the total budget by the total students. Some students with special needs require much more costly services than the average student - 14 percent of students in public schools are eligible for special-education services (which adds $200 million to the budget), 7 percent are English language-learners ($32 million), and the district provides instructional services for just over 4,500 children in residential placements because of disabilities or behavioral issues, an annual cost of more than $70 million.
DN: The district employs 453 principals - more than needed since there aren't 453 schools . . . Let's say the average principal makes $150,000 per year . . . That's $68 million for principals. For good benefits let's toss in another $23 million.
SDP: In 2011, the district has 467 principals and assistant principals to lead more than 260 district-operated schools. All schools have one principal. Only larger schools have assistant principals.
DN: The district transports 37,551 students per day . . . on yellow buses. Let's pay our 1,300 bus drivers $50,000 per year (complete guess) - so, there's another $65 million. Our 1,300 buses are going to need 50 mechanics to fix them and repair the seats that your children have destroyed - chuck in another $3 million for salaries. All their benefits? Another $23 million.
Since it's too much to ask the district to have hybrids, we have to fuel these guzzlers. Here, your guess is as good as mine, but let's say 25 gallons per day at $4 gallon . . . That brings our fuel costs to $130,000 per day or $24 million per year.
SDP: The total transportation budget is actually $125 million in 2010-11, which can easily be determined by examining the expenditure schedules in the "FY12 Budget in Brief."
But that budget pays not only for 38,000 students transported by yellow bus in grades K-6, but also an additional 58,000 students in grades 7-12 who travel to and from school using student TransPasses, at a total cost of about $30 million.
So the actual cost of yellow bus service is less than $100 million, and the bus budget would be much smaller if not for the $50 million it costs the district to transport about 9,000 special-education students. Many of these students have special needs, including a need for legally mandated bus attendants, that drive up the cost of their bus service.
In "The key to budget health: Just Seven Little Cuts . . . and 7 Smart Ways to Raise Money":
DN: How about the unions accept unpaid spring break? . . . You're not working anyway, so why not go without pay for one week? Teachers alone would save the district roughly $45 million.
SDP: This would require a revision to the labor contracts. The 2011-12 budget already assumes $75 million from reopening the contracts to reduce wage and benefit costs. The district is open to negotiating how costs could be reduced, and this proposal could be one way to do it, but until labor changes exceed $75 million, they can't be used to offset other cuts in the 2011-12 budget because this level of savings from labor is already built in.
DN: Contracted services in transportation and communications alone cost the district $474 million in 2010. By 2012, the district plans to spend nearly 17 percent more, about $552 million.
SDP: In 2010-11, all operating budget contracts come to $287 million. $65 million (23 percent) pays for educational services for Philly students who have been placed in institutions by Family Court or Department of Human Services. $39 million (14 percent) pays for state-mandated services to students in nonpublic schools. $40 million (14 percent) pays for alternative education programs for students with serious disciplinary problems and students returning to school after dropping out. $23 million (8 percent) pays for contracted custodial services in district high schools and trash disposal at all SDP schools.
Bus transportation contracts this year are $32 million (11 percent). The current 2011-12 budget will eliminate all bus transportation (and TransPasses) for students in district-operated public schools and all nonpublic schools, unless the district receives added funding to cover the cost.
Contracted services aren't being increased. Next year's budget cuts contracted services by tens of millions of dollars.
DN: The district budgeted $2.86 million for a 20-person communications office, a 21 percent hike from last year.
SDP: The 2010-11 communications budget is $2.3 million, which includes the cost of PSTV, the district cable channel. Like all other central offices, next year's communications budget is being cut by 50 percent. Central office budgets are being reduced by $53 million next year, with more than 430 positions eliminated.
DN: End sabbaticals. Why pay an employee half his salary plus benefits - and for a substitute - while he works on the great American novel? . . . He should get his full salary and report to work.
SDP: Again, this would require a revision to the current labor contracts. The 2011-12 budget already assumes $75 million from reopening the contracts to reduce wage and benefit costs next year.