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Pittsburgh Public Schools proposes budget with $56 million deficit, but no tax increase

Sarah Schneider
90.5 WESA

The Pittsburgh Public Schools board will consider a budget next month that includes a $56 million deficit, a funding gap that has grown more than 40% over last year.

But the $690 million plan proposed by district administrators — and announced in a press release late Friday night — includes no calls to raise taxes, one of the few tools the PPS board has to generate new revenue.

Board members last year rejected a proposed property tax increase, leaving the district short $39.5 million. Some members argued at the time that the district had not made enough cuts to warrant raising taxes on city property owners.

In 2019, the board voted to increase taxes for the first time in five years. That decision came after PPS Chief Financial Officer Ron Joseph had warned that, if efforts were not taken to generate further revenue, the district risked falling out of compliance with its own internal policy governing its reserve fund. The policy states that five percent of its fund must be put in reserve. Historically, the district has relied on its reserve fund to balance the budget.

But Joseph warned the board earlier this month that, without adjusting labor costs or generating more revenue from taxes, district reserves would be depleted by 2023.

Pittsburgh Public Schools presentation

The district’s most significant expenditure is staff salaries and benefits; the second largest is charter school tuition. When a student who resides within city limits attends a charter school, the per-pupil funding from the state is routed first to the city district. The district then issues those dollars to the charter school.

According to the district, charter school expenditures are up 21%. As of this month, 5,197 Pittsburgh students attend 39 charter schools. The 2022 budget allocates $119 million to charter school payments, about 17% of the budget.

Pittsburgh Public Schools budget

$342 million—nearly half of the budget—goes to staff salaries and benefits.

Interim superintendent Wayne Walters’ proposed $690.3 million preliminary budget represents a nearly 3% increase in spending over last year’s plan. Walters was appointed to the interim position in October after former Superintendent Anthony Hamlet resigned following a state investigation found that he had violated ethics law.

The public can comment on the budget Monday Nov. 22 at 6 p.m. during the board’s regular monthly public hearing or at a special budget public hearing Dec. 6 at noon. The board is slated to vote on the plan Dec. 22 during its legislative meeting. New board members will be sworn in Dec. 6.

Corrected: November 22, 2021 at 6:57 AM EST
This story was updated to correct the district's funding gap, which has grown by more than 40% over last year.