Pgh School District shaves $31.9M off projected deficit

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In June, as the Pittsburgh Public School District reeled from impending budget cuts at the state level, they announced that despite these cuts, they were already looking at a possible $53.6 million deficit for 2012. Six months later, on Dec. 7, the district passed a budget with a projected deficit of $21 million, cutting the originally projected deficit by more than half.

Linda
MAKING PROGRESS—Despite increasing strain on the district’s budget, Superintendant Linda Lane announced the district made adequate yearly progress in 2011.

“I haven’t been in the district long, but from those who have been here longer, they’re assuring me they don’t remember anything as big as this. What it means for the future is we’re going to have to focus on the things that are important and let some other things go,” said Superintendent Linda Lane. “We want our kids to continue to improve in terms of their learning outcomes. We want our parents to feel like we’re providing a strong educational background for our students.”

In order to reduce the district’s expenditures, the 2012 budget calls for the elimination of approximately 630 full-time positions, closing seven schools, realigning school assignment boundaries, reducing capital expenditures, debt refinancing at lower interest rates and raising average class sizes to their maximum number.

“We still, under this budget, would be spending almost $22 million of our fund balance and as long as we’re using our fund balance to balance our budget, it’s a problem,” Lane said. “We’re going to continue to look at pretty much every other area. In terms of our staffing at our schools I think we have it down as much as we possibly can.”

The reduction in staff includes 308 teachers, 231 central office staff and 91 support staff. However, despite these cuts, the district has reorganized to ensure each school will now include art, music, library service, and guidance counselors or social workers.

“Part of the goal here was to make sure each school has some. One of the things we heard in talking to community members is that even though they knew we were going to have less of something, we wanted to see what we could have more of,” Lane said. “There will be some kids who have less art and music than they had but some kids will now have it who didn’t have any before.”

Another component of the reorganization includes raising average class sizes to the maximum allowed by the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, which is 25 for elementary school, 28 for middle school and 30 for high school. However each high school will still be ensured at least two world languages and advanced courses.

“One of the things we looked at is how can we change our educational delivery model,” Lane said. “We’ll still have some classes that are small, and some classes are designed to do that. That means there might be some that are larger than the average size and some that are smaller.”

One of the most highly contested reductions in the 2012 budget was funding cuts that would eliminate private lessons at CAPA High School. However, CAPA students will still receive private lessons in sixth, eighth and twelfth grade.

“Certainly you don’t want to reduce anybody, but we do know CAPA had a pretty significant arts allocation and still will, but we did believe in a model of shared sacrifice,” Lane said. “Our original proposal had reduced all private lessons. They were able to restore some private lessons. Previously there have been similar reductions built into the district budget, but we wanted to make sure we were as open as possible.”

The district’s 2012 $529.8 million budget is 2.1 percent less than the 2011 budget. Based on the district’s current cost of expenditures, PPS is still expected to have the highest per pupil expenditure of any public school district in Pennsylvania.

For the 11th straight year, the school board has not increased taxes on city residents. Despite the district’s reductions, they are still projecting a more than $50 million problem in 2015.

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