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Wilkinsburg school district to go on state watch list

| Thursday, March 14, 2013, 9:40 p.m.

The state Department of Education intends to place Wilkinsburg School District on a watch list for financially distressed districts, state Sen. Jim Ferlo's office said on Thursday.

The department notified Ferlo, D-Highland Park, about its plan, said Anne Huber, his spokeswoman. He would not comment, she said.

The state expects to release watch list information soon, said Education Department spokesman Tim Eller, who declined to comment about Wilkinsburg.

The list is part of the state's early warning system that mandates districts in jeopardy receive technical assistance from the state to fix financial problems.

Charter schools, which take students and state money from districts, constitute Wilkinsburg's biggest financial burden, said Philip Martell, assistant director of business affairs.

In this school year, 375 Wilkinsburg children attended charter schools, which received $3.5 million in state subsidies that would have gone to the public school district. It finished the year with a $3.7 million deficit.

The district's budget is $27.4 million this school year and should be about the same in 2013-14, though officials made deep budget cuts, Martell said.

In the past three years, Wilkinsburg schools cut 87 jobs, leaving 246 employees. That saved about $2.8 million, he said.

The district recently sought approval from Allegheny County court to borrow $3 million from PNC Bank to help pay bills for the rest of this school year. The court granted that on Feb. 13.

Of the 1,017 students enrolled in Wilkinsburg School District, 81 percent receive free or reduced-price lunches, state records show.

Tory N. Parrish is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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