By Mike Dunn
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The new head of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission blames what he calls “bad fiscal policy” of the previous SRC for the continuing financial plight of city schools.
At a daylong City Council hearing today, councilmembers wanted answers on how the Philadelphia school district ended up with a current deficit of $26 million and a projected deficit in the coming fiscal year in the hundreds of millions (see related story).
In testimony lasting an hour, SRC chairman Pedro Ramos spelled out in blunt terms that the previous SRC applied stimulus money to new programs rather than using it to address the long-term structural imbalance of the district’s budget.
Ramos was questioned by Councilman Mark Squilla, among others.
(Squilla:) “So we had extra money, especially the stimulus money that was used for other things, (and) the SRC approved the new programs that were being used instead of paying down the debt.”
(Ramos:) “Yep. Bad fiscal policy. I wasn’t here. At the time there were a lot of optimistic projections about what they could accomplish, and not all those projections had good plans behind them.”
Ramos, who took the top post at the SRC last October, called the current efforts to solve the district’s dire straits “a defining moment.”
Reiterating that the current deficit is $26 million, the SRC chief said he could not yet estimate the deficit expected in the coming fiscal year, but indicated it would likely be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
The reasons for that, he testified, are threefold: that the current red ink will “roll over,” that the district has a $169-million structural imbalance, and that basic obligations like salaries are growing while tax revenues are not.
“In the next couple of years, there isn’t going to be a magical moment where this all goes away,” Ramos told the panel. “This has to be managed away.”
The SRC, he said, is working toward those goals.