- The District must immediate re-do its budget. It is irresponsible for City leaders and city residents to support $60 million in funds when there is no indication of how those funds will be spent. The District chose to zero out essential supports in schools while approving an $11 million contract with Pearson and outsourcing a $15 million cyber school start-up just last week alone. Playing brinksmanship games with mandated essential services and throwing our schools into chaos should not be supported by City Council. The District must submit a new budget with the $180 million to demonstrate how the money will be spent responsibly, and even without the full amount, how the District will guarantee a safe and adequate school environment.
- A portion of the $60 million must rely on significant contribution increases from the state. While the District has chosen to settle for a mere $120 million, the unified message from city and District leaders must be an incremental reinstatement of the Rendell-era education funding formula. Pennsylvania is one of only three states in the nation without an education funding formula. Without this funding formula, not only has Philadelphia lost more than $300 million in state support, but the level of inequity between Philadelphia and its surrounding suburbs has grown dramatically. As of last year, EducationLawCenter reported a $78,000 difference between a Philadelphia classroom and surrounding districts.
Before we comment on the District’s budget, we want to note that the District released its consolidated budget on Friday with its one and only public hearing on the budget the following Monday. This budget was not available to the public when the District held its first budget hearing last week. Unlike previous years, the District also failed to provide a budget-in-brief document to better understand this 340+ page document.
We do hope that City Council keeps this concern in mind. The District is responsible for over $2.5 billion in public funds, of which there is frankly minimal oversight. In the midst of one of the District’s most severe financial crises, where 24 neighborhood schools were closed down in the name of fiscal control, the District has chosen a massive and reckless expansion of the charter system at a cost of more than $139 million over the next five years, it has chosen to rebuild central administration without informing the broader public, and it has pursued questionable ventures in expanded contracting such as cyber charter outsourcing and commitments to questionable outfits like Pearson rather than serving our schools and classrooms responsibly.
Parents United believes in the generous funding of public schools – but not without oversight and many questions. We hope Council will consider the following:
- Teaching and learning: The District is presenting a budget which violates contractual and moral educational mandates (maximum class sizes, no counselors, librarians, itinerant music programs, books or supplies, sports, secretaries, or assistant principals) and zeroes out any investment in teaching and learning yet has asked City Council for $60 million in funds. How will the District re-do its budget to reflect an investment and priority toward teaching and learning and investments in schools and classrooms, particularly for schools subjected to school mergers as a result of mass school closings?
Massive central office expansion
- The District has consistently testified to how much 440 has shrunk. In fact every evidence shows the contrary. On page 62, central administration is divided into 9 divisions. Of those offices alone, central administration costs expanded by almost $30 million this year. Every single division saw significant increases in spending. Moreover the expansion of central administration amounted to 25% more than what was approved in the FY13 Adopted Budget.
- Why did the District choose to expand central administration?
- At one point did it intend to inform the public it had chosen to do so?
- Page 62 also indicates that the nine Central Office divisions hired an additional 131 full time employees to the payroll. Could the District explain this expansion as well?
- P 307: The office of the CEO now has 15 employees, five more than allotted under the adopted FY2013 budget. In addition to a $210K Deputy Supt, a $168K Assoc Supt. of Academic Support, a $104K government relations expert, a secretary and two executive assistants, the CEO’s office now hosts:
- Senior VP for Communications in addition to a full communications office
- Senior Adviser
- Deputy of Strategic Initiatives
- Portfolio Management Director, in addition to a charter office; and
- three strategic analysts
Could the District explain the significant increase in personnel particularly in these advisory areas given the huge hits delivered to district schools?
- No expected revenues: Tom Knudsen, our former superintendent, was hired as City Revenue Czar, with primary attention paid to addressing the high rate of delinquent taxes. Yet on page 19, the expected delinquent tax collection remains flat at $51 million for next year. Why is this?
- BRT holdover: Why is the District still compelled to contribute $3.8 million toward the effectively defunct Bureau of Revision of Taxes, when no other District in the Commonwealth is required to bear such a burden?
- Renaissance schools are usually schools turned over to charters. On page 133 of the budget book: Which two Renaissance principals are on the District payroll?
- In June last year, after its presentation before City Council, the District chose to expand charter schools by more than 5,000 seats at a cost of more than $139 million to the District. It also voted to close only three charters out of 26 up for renewal, despite the fact that a number of those charters performed worse than District schools which were closed this year. The District has said that there will be no more expansions for the 2013-2014 school year. However, many have called for stricter accountability for charters.
- What standards is the District using for the 16 charters up for renewal this year and how is it taking into account the need for innovation, services for specialized high needs populations, and equity concerns?
- Does the District think that the best approach is a blanket denial of charter expansions rather than determining whether some charters should close and other be expanded as long as total numbers do not increase?
- Ethics and transparency: Former SRC Chair Robert Archie’s admission of guilt in ethics charges. An ethics report buried since December. Refusing to release information related to Boston Consulting Group. The shadow role of the Great Schools Compact. Not making contracts and resolutions public with significant advance notice and review before an SRC meeting. A budget document that appears the Friday before a Monday hearing. This is not the transparent SRC we were promised. The District must effectively change its practices and needs to lay out a course for doing so.
- Contracting: The District does not routinely make available its significant public contracts. As we know, the District is not required to bid out over $100 million in discretionary professional services contracts. For example, the $11 million Pearson contract was not on an early list of published resolutions and only appeared on a list published the day before the SRC voted on the contract. The public is still not clear who is getting contracts in the District and for how much. Will the School District provide a list of all contracts by vendor with a total above $100,000 to Council and the public?
For more information, see the Public School Notebook’s post on its quick budget analysis here.