[lg policy] Phila. schools had =?windows-1252?Q?=91bad_fiscal_policy=2C=92_?=SRC chair says

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Wed Mar 28 16:44:31 UTC 2012

Phila. schools had ‘bad fiscal policy,’ SRC chair says
March 27, 2012|By Kristen A. Graham, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER

How did the Philadelphia School District get into its current
financial bind, with $26 million left to cut by June and a gap of up
to $400 million for next year?

"Bad fiscal policy," School Reform Commission Chairman Pedro Ramos
told City Council Tuesday, the most pointed such admission he has made
since joining the SRC last year.

In the past, the district borrowed a lot of money. And when it was
flush with cash from the federal stimulus package and state coffers,
it spent a lot, too, on salaries, benefits, and new programs it now
cannot afford to keep going.

"It is no secret that the district's current spending level, even
after cuts, is unsustainable," Ramos said in testimony to Council's
education committee.

When Ramos joined the SRC last November, he viewed the budget
situation as "a train wreck in progress." Officials had already cut
more than $600 million through layoffs, program cuts, and union
concessions. But the SRC has had to cut millions more, and it still
faces the $26 million shortfall and a gap of likely at least $269
million for fiscal 2013.

The previous SRC, led by Robert L. Archie Jr., and the administration
of Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman banked on the economy's
recovering more quickly than it did, and there were "overly optimistic
projections that despite everything that was being said in Harrisburg,
reality would be hundreds of millions of dollars different," Ramos

Many of the projections did not have "good plans behind them," the
chairman said.

In January, the SRC demoted two key district officials and brought in
Thomas Knudsen as chief recovery officer, a hybrid
superintendent-chief financial officer to cut costs and decentralize

The SRC must firmly reestablish itself as running the district, Ramos said.

"I have been fascinated by the extent to which the culture in the
district had considered the SRC a last stop on administrative
processes rather than the starting point for forming policy and
priorities," he said.

Ramos also said the district would refocus on safety.

"You can't engage in reading and math if you don't feel safe," Ramos
said. "Loud and clear: The issue of safety has risen to the top as one
of the public's biggest concerns."

Ramos said the district would emphasize proactive measures rather than
its previous focus on reactive, punitive measures. A safety committee
under Commissioner Lorene Cary has begun to address these issues.


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