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2017 PPS Budget

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The 2017 PPS Budget is a statement of the school board and administration’s priorities for the coming year. To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, budgets are moral documents. They embody the values of a community and those represented to serve the community.

I urge you to take a few moments to read it (here’s a link to a short overview prepared by PPS) and then come testify at the Board on Monday, December 19 with your questions and concerns. You can register for the public hearing before 9 am on Monday morning by calling 412.529.3868

While the budget document is full of information, it does not provide a school by school breakdown of spending. Please see the testimony I gave at the special budget hearing below for why we think it’s so important to account for all of what’s being spent at schools.

Pittsburgh Public Schools 2017 Budget

James Fogarty, Executive Director
Testimony December 5, 2016

Good afternoon.   I am pleased to provide testimony today on behalf of A+ Schools: Pittsburgh’s Community Alliance for public education.

We’re here today because the budget is perhaps the largest and most impactful policy document that you will vote on this year. It provides a roadmap of your priorities, and of all the policy tools you have at your disposal, the budget can have the greatest impact on addressing inequities and closing opportunity gaps within our schools.

First off, we would like to commend the board and administration for continuing to improve the financial outlook of Pittsburgh Public Schools even in the face of financial uncertainty.  The 2017 budget does not call for a tax increase, nor would we recommend one at this point with a solid fund balance in hand and growing tax receipts.

Last year, my predecessor, Carey Harris, laid out an analysis of Pittsburgh Public Schools’ budget that remains mostly unchanged.

We still see some of the greatest disparities in spending between rich and poor districts of any state in the nation. Local property taxpayers bear a majority of the costs of education, which exacerbates interdistrict inequities.   While we were proud to see the state legislature pass a Basic Education Funding Formula this past year due to efforts of our organization and others working with the Campaign for Fair Education Funding, we know that getting to more equitable funding will require further investments by the state in other districts. We also know that we will need to continue to protect Pittsburgh’s funding even with the good financial outlook we currently have.

Here’s why: compared to the seven largest districts in Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh Public Schools (in 2014-2015):

  • Was the highest spending, spending more in almost every budget category, but especially instruction, support services, and debt and financing uses.
  • Benefitted (and still does) from the highest per pupil basic education fund (BEF) subsidy
  • Had the 2nd most generous local tax support
  • Had the 2nd lowest teacher to student ratio

A+ Schools has sought for the past several years to understand how PPS is investing its generous state and local support to students.  We will be updating our analysis of the PPS budget soon, but what remains a sticking point for us is the fact that nearly half of the money invested in schools, is driven out centrally and not tracked at the school building level.

For sake of transparency, and for you as directors to make good decisions about where to invest money, we call on you to make it the policy of this board that with each year’s budget presentation, starting this year, you and the public should be provided a building by building accounting of what resources are going to each school.

What the public currently is able to know is what is being spent via Title I and site-based budgets at each school.  Those site-based budgets include average teacher salaries, principal salaries, supplies, and small amounts of discretionary dollars for paraprofessionals or other uses.  However, this is only about half of what is spent at each school, as far as we can tell.

The remaining half of funds spent from central office include transportation, facilities and maintenance, school security staff, nurses, and other costs. Not knowing how much it costs to transport a student to one building versus another, or what the costs of security or custodial staff in a building are, means that you cannot know if the ways you are currently spending money are addressing inequities or exacerbating them.

Based on our analysis of site-based budgets last year, our investment in kids is really dependent on how big their school is, not what their needs are.  Further we have no evidence to suggest that the larger investments in kids in small schools is getting them what they need as they have some of the largest achievement gaps in the district.

While we would hope that the board would move to funding schools based on a formula (similar to what is being done at the state level), before the District can do that, you must first know what is being spent as accurately as possible. Please, make it the policy of this board that all of the money that is spent at each school building is accounted for and made public as part of the discussions and debate about the budget. Until you know what is actually spent at each building, how can you get to equity?

Thank you for your service to our children, and thank you for considering this recommendation to improve equity in funding of our schools.