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Pittsburgh school board approves $533.6M budget

Rob Amen
| Thursday, Dec. 22, 2005

The Pittsburgh Public Schools board unanimously passed a $533.6 million budget Wednesday night, a move that eliminates 102 teaching jobs but holds the line on taxes.

The budget approval came at a cost. The board used about $33 million of the district's surplus. The district still is facing a roughly $47 million operating deficit in 2007.

The budget included $14.2 million in recommended cuts announced earlier this month by school officials.

Among the cuts were $3.8 million for Superintendent Mark Roosevelt's "right-sizing" plan, which calls for the closing of almost two dozen schools.

The board is expected to vote on Roosevelt's plan in February.

The budget's passing would suggest the school board agrees with the plan, but Roosevelt thought otherwise.

"I don't think this has anything to do with the February vote," he said. "We got done what we had to get done. I think the board understands the need to do right-sizing. But they could still vote down the right-sizing plan."

If that happens, Roosevelt said, the board would have to readjust the budget to compensate for the cuts it passed last night.

Despite dipping into the surplus, the board was able to maintain what it projects will be a surplus that is 5 percent of its budget by the end of 2006, according to Pete Camarda, the district's chief financial officer.

That is critical to ensure the district maintains a solid bond rating to borrow money, school officials said.

Camarda said the district still has a $26.7 million surplus.

"The budget we passed was a very tough one to pass," board member Randall Taylor said. "I don't think there are any more (cuts) we can do. The financial (situation) of the Pittsburgh Public Schools is very dire."

Roosevelt echoed Taylor's sentiment.

"We have some issues still to face," Roosevelt said. "We will make as many cuts as we need to make. ... Then we will stop."

Of the $14.2 million in cost reductions represented by the 2006 budget, $4.3 million was trimmed from central administration. That was the largest single cut noted by the school board.

About $2.1 million was saved with the elimination of 75 regular teaching positions, 27 special-education teacher jobs and three administrators.

To balance the budget -- up $3.5 million from this year -- the board had to address about $20 million in cost increases with charter schools, natural gas, transportation, retirements, special education, health insurance, electricity and tax refunds.

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