Doomsday cuts

The Phil­adelphia School Re­form Com­mis­sion last week ad­op­ted a “Dooms­day Budget” that is a blue­print for what would hap­pen to the city’s pub­lic schools in the fall if the school dis­trict does not get ad­di­tion­al money.

Art classes and mu­sic pro­grams would be thrown onto the scrap heap. Ath­let­ics and after-school pro­grams would be can­celed. Say good­bye, too, to as­sist­ant prin­cipals, guid­ance coun­selors, sec­ret­ar­ies and the school aides who mon­it­or lunch rooms.

Say hello to chaos.

Now, nobody ex­pects this really to hap­pen. In­stead, the dis­trict’s $2.4 bil­lion budget for 2013-2014 is likely to be amended as new fund­ing eases at least some of the pro­jec­ted $304 mil­lion short­fall. The city, state and the Phil­adelphia Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers are all be­ing asked to come to the party and save the school dis­trict from cata­stroph­ic cuts.

The city is be­ing asked to pony up $60 mil­lion in new funds, and the state is be­ing asked for twice that amount. An­oth­er $100 mil­lion would come from give­backs from the teach­ers’ uni­on.

We sus­pect the SRC ad­op­ted this un­real­ist­ic budget for two reas­ons — to meet its fi­du­ciary ob­lig­a­tion and to spur elec­ted of­fi­cials in­to ac­tion. But the tim­ing couldn’t be worse. City Coun­cil is already up to its el­bows in one of the most im­port­ant and con­ten­tious changes in years, con­vert­ing to a new prop­erty tax as­sess­ment sys­tem.  How nimble will Coun­cil be in sort­ing out the school dis­trict’s budget mess at the same time?

There’s also no doubt the state and teach­ers’ uni­on will be a hard sell.

We already are ex­per­i­en­cing a se­quest­ra­tion at the fed­er­al level. The se­quester, you’ll re­call, was hatched dur­ing the debt ceil­ing com­prom­ise in 2011. The se­quester was sup­posed to be so un­pal­at­able that it would nev­er hap­pen. But it did, tak­ing ef­fect on March 1. By the end of Septem­ber, the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment will cut $85 bil­lion in spend­ing.

The im­pact of these across-the-board cuts are already be­ing felt in some quar­ters and will only grow.

Every­one seems to think the “Dooms­day Budget” for city schools is just a stalk­ing horse for a much more real­ist­ic and ro­bust budget that will keep our schools in­tact. The new money will flow. We hope that’s so, but now that we have had a taste of the fed­er­al se­quester, we won­der how smart it is to play Rus­si­an Roul­ette with our city schools. •• 

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