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Pittsburgh Public Schools projects deficit by 2015

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By Bill Zlatos
Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Pittsburgh Public Schools could have empty pockets in three years, district officials warned Monday.

City schools Superintendent Linda Lane said during an update of the district's finances at the Administration Building in Oakland that she plans to present an operating budget of $521.8 million for 2013. That's a decrease of 1.5 percent over this year with no increase in taxes.

However, the fund surplus, now at $72.4 million, would soon vanish and the district would be $16.6 million in the red if nothing else is done.

“By 2015, are we broke?” school board member Thomas Sumpter asked.

“Correct,” business manager Ronald Joseph replied.

The district is swamped by an array of problems: Enrollment has dropped from 32,661 in 2004 to 24,889 this year because of competition from charter, parochial and private schools. Its contributions for employee pensions are projected to double from $21.1 million this year to nearly $43.7 million in 2015.

The city schools saved nearly $50 million between June 2011 and July 2012 by cutting 217 central office employees, closing seven schools and taking other steps.

But the district lost $37.8 million last year in federal and state money.

Lane said the district cannot take the normal approach of cutting art, music or physical education — programs that appeal to parents.

“It's going to take something different than what we've done before,” she said. “It's going to require a creative solution.”

Board member William Isler suggested the consolidation of school districts. Allegheny County has 43.

“We're working on an agrarian model that's so out of date it's not funny,” he said.

Board member Mark Brentley Sr. suggested rethinking the impending sale of the former Schenley High School and the proposed $1.75 million window replacement project at Pittsburgh Obama, the former Peabody High School.

“I think everything should be on the table,” he said.

The board is scheduled to vote on the proposed budget on Dec. 19.

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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