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Higher per-pupil cost in Pittsburgh Public Schools to get attention of consultants

| Tuesday, May 7, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Pittsburgh Public Schools spends about $6,800 a year more to educate a student than similar districts in the state, and the city school board is trying to figure ways to cut those costs.

“The board has to have the facts on the table,” Superintendent Linda Lane said on Monday, when she presented some of the findings from the district's consultants.

The school board hired consultants FSG and Bellwether Education Partners in January to think about how the district can deliver education. The $2.4 million contract runs through August 2015.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will pick up half of the tab, and a group of foundations called the Fund for Excellence will pay the other half.

The contract with the consultants will help the school district figure out how better to educate children as revenues decrease and expenditures increase.

The district's 2013 budget of $521.8 million represents a 1.5 percent decrease over 2012, but officials expect an operating deficit of $9.8 million. After some cost-cutting measures, the administration expects to run out of money in 2016 if the district doesn't make any changes.

The consultants found that Pittsburgh spent about $18,400 to educate a student in 2011-12, compared with $11,600 for similar districts in the state in 2010-11 after adjusting for “unusual” expenses such as payments to charter schools. The district hopes to cut that gap by $2,000 a student.

School board members discussed having regional centers for gifted students. Another topic that board members were interested in was attracting more students to city schools.

The consultants found that the number of school-age children in the city has declined from 52,417 in 2000 to 37,431 in 2010. Seventy percent of school-age children enroll in district schools.

“I feel it's a solid base,” Lane said. “We'd like to expand that, especially if we can offer schools that stand up to the choices parents are making.”

Board member Regina Holley said the district has mistakenly moved away from offering choices such as foreign languages that continue from elementary to high school.

Robert Albright, a senior consultant from the Boston office of FSG, said the consultants will make recommendations to the board this fall.

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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