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Ex-Murphy aide will review district budget

The former head of Pittsburgh's budget and finance office has been hired as a financial consultant for Pittsburgh Public Schools.

Ellen McLean, who served in the administration of Mayor Tom Murphy from 1994 until she resigned in January, was hired as a short-term consultant to put "fresh eyes" on the district's budget problems, said Superintendent Mark Roosevelt. McLean was the first department head to resign after Murphy announced in December that he would not seek a fourth term.

"Ellen will work directly for me reviewing the school district's budget line-by-line," Roosevelt said Wednesday. "I felt it was important to bring in somebody from outside the district because, while we've got a lot of very competent folks here, it's been my experience that when people are in the frame, they can't always see the big picture."

Roosevelt said he "put the word out" that he was looking for someone with experience with public budgets who would serve as a consultant.

"In my travels around town, I spoke to a number of people about my desire to get someone to help review our budget," Roosevelt said. "I was told that Ellen (McLean) was available, so I met with her and determined that she has the skills to do the job."

Roosevelt said McLean's salary would be paid by one of the region's foundations, but declined to say which one.

McLean, who could not be reached for comment, is expected to work through the end of October, the superintendent said.

McLean was at the helm in the city's budget office as Pittsburgh teetered on the brink of bankruptcy. But Roosevelt said the city's financial crisis was "not relevant" to the work McLean would do for the district.

a result of a shrinking tax base in the city and rising costs for salaries, health care, retirement benefits, utilities and transportation, said Pete Camarda, the district's chief financial officer. The district has a yearly budget of about $500 million.

The school district began 2005 with a $78.8 million reserve, Camarda said. But more than half of that money -- $40.5 million -- will be used to balance this year's budget, leaving the district with $38.3 million in reserves at the end of the year.

Camarda estimates that the district will need about $43 million to balance the 2006 budget, which will place the district about $4.7 million in the hole.

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