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Pittsburgh Public Schools to seek consultant for financial planning

| Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012, 7:20 a.m.

Pittsburgh Public Schools plans to hire a consultant next month to help it dig out of a financial hole expected to leave the district nearly $17 million in the red by 2015.

“It would be a firm that would help provide us with expertise in mapping out a tight process for making the changes we need to make,” said Lisa Fischetti, chief of staff for the district, during a meeting Wednesday with the media.

Superintendent Linda Lane proposed a 2013 operating budget of $521.8 million at a school board meeting Wednesday. The preliminary budget is $8 million less than the current budget of $529.8 million, a decrease of 1.5 percent. For the 12th consecutive year, the district is holding the line on taxes. The property tax in the district is 13.9 mills.

District officials, though, face a grave financial climate. The district lost $37.8 million last year in federal and state money. And enrollment has plummeted from 32,661 in 2004 to 24,849 this year. Between June 2011 and July 2012, the district cut $50 million by furloughing 280 employees; changing school-feeder patterns; renegotiating bus contracts; and closing seven schools. Since 2006, the district has dropped from 86 to 54 school buildings.

Fischetti wouldn't rule out the possibility of more school closings.

“When you're facing the kind of challenges we're facing, you have to look at everything,” she said.

The district has received at least a half-dozen bids from consultants. It will ask the board to approve one next month if it would receive outside money to support the cost, Fischetti said.

One potential strategy to reduce costs is to blend learning in the classroom with learning online. The district opened an online academy for the 2012-13 school year that attracted 70 students, said Peter Camarda, chief financial and operations officer for the district.

“We need to deliver education that greatly accelerates student achievement and engages parents and students in a much greater way than we're doing today and deliver it in a more effective manner,” Fischetti said.

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or bzlatos@tribweb.com.

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