With property tax increase delayed, school district dealing with budget shortfall
School district officials remain hopeful that the state will throw them a lifeline after the city failed to provide the funding officials hoped would help close a growing budget gap.
“The (School Reform Commission) is waiting for the budget process to play out in Harrisburg to be finalized to see what the ultimate results will be for the district,” said district spokesman Fernando Gallard. “We will take into consideration what the city has done, and what the state will do; then we will be able to state where we are, given our finances.”
Gallard spoke Friday afternoon as a budget hurtled toward the governor’s office.
On Friday, the Senate approved a $27.7 billion budget, clearing the way for Gov. Tom Corbett to sign it into law before the start of the fiscal year, which begins Sunday.
In it, funding for public education remained largely flat at about $1.3 billion.
The district also relies on several other sources of state money that are part of the budget that Corbett is expected to sign.
According to figures provided by the Associated Press, the spending plan headed for the governor’s desk includes level funding to pay for full-day kindergarten — about $100 million for all the districts in the state, and a slight increase in the state’s transportation subsidy — $542 million for the entire state.
Despite the speed with which the budget appeared to be moving through Harrisburg, Gallard insisted that the SRC would wait until the state budget was final before reconsidering its options.
“Clearly, we were starting with a $218 million deficit, and as it stands, the city at best has given us $40 million, and that’s where we are,” he said. “We are going to wait until the commonwealth budget process concludes.”
The School Reform Commission approved a $2.6 billion budget in April — leaving a shortfall that topped $200 million.
District officials hoped the city would help close the gap by providing $94 million.
But this week City Council finalized its own $3.6 billion budget, one that provided only $40 million for the foundering school district.
That pushed the district’s shortfall $54 million higher.
“At the end of the day, we’re here to make tough decisions,” said Council President Darrell Clarke, adding that no one got all of what they wanted.
School commissioners had been counting on Council to approve Mayor Michael Nutter’s Actual Value Initiative to provide them with the $94 million. Instead Council delayed AVI for another year, and members raised the property tax and the city’s use and occupancy tax — moves that generated $20 million each — and devoted those funds to the district. Half that money comes with strings attached, with Council planning to put “accountability measures” in place before it releases $20 million to the district.
Staff writer Damon C. Williams contributed to this story.