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Pittsburgh school district proposed $680 million budget prioritizes maintaining staffing, buildings

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

The Pittsburgh Public Schools district doesn’t plan to raise property taxes to make up for a $9.2 million budget shortfall in the coming year. Instead, the district is using COVID-19 relief money to maintain the district’s staffing and school buildings.

The school board will vote on the proposed $675.9 million budget on Wednesday during its December meeting. The 2023 budget is 1.5% larger than last year’s budget, though enrollment declined by three percent. This year the district enrolled 18,660 students across 58 buildings.

During a series of public workshops to discuss the budget in-depth, something not done in previous years until shortly before the end-of-year deadline, board members grappled with how to maintain district sustainability.

Like in previous years, the district isn’t bringing in enough money to cover costs. It’s short $9.2 million, a much smaller deficit than in the past several years. Last year the board approved a three percent property tax increase after much debate. The increased tax revenue, coupled with remaining COVID-19 relief funding, helped bring the deficit down, according to Chief Financial Officer Ron Joseph.

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He told board members during a series of budget workshops over the last few months that while the deficit is much smaller than in previous years, the district is dipping into its savings to cover costs.

Costs set by the state and outside of the district’s control, including retirement and payments to charter schools, grew again this year. Joseph said the district could only make changes to about 60 percent of the budget.

“We’re left with about $394 million we can actually budget for purposes, whether it be operations, school-based staff, utilities, central administration, transportation of our students,” he said.

The district does, though, have control of its footprint. The district’s schools are at 57 percent capacity with an average age of 89 years. The district’s chief operations officer has said multiple times that it's costly to maintain so many buildings that are far under capacity.

Nearly half of the budget accounts for salaries and benefits for the more than 4,000 employees. The district last year decided to use $13 million of its COVID-19 relief money to maintain staffing levels through the end of the next school year.


Most departments would see slight increases under the budget, including school safety. According to administrators, the increase would help the district send more security guards to the police academy to become officers with the district.

Board member Devon Taliaferro said that she wants the district to get to a point it is not focused on hiring more police officers or sending security aides to the police academy but focused instead on hiring staff to support the district’s restorative practice work. The district received a large federal grant a few years ago to train schools to prioritize student well-being and find the root cause of disruptive behaviors.

“Conflict resolution is an issue. Students don’t know how to deal with conflict in this district,” she said. “How do we have the proper staff that support those types of things, so it doesn’t get to an escalated level where you need school police officers to intervene.”

During a budget workshop, board member Pam Harbin noted that the district should focus on paying security officers more because currently the only option to make more money is to become a police officer.

“I think what we should be encouraging is paying our school security aides the right amount of money. Because they’re the ones that are mostly in our buildings, and they’re not giving citations and arrests,” she said.

During a public hearing on the budget Angel Gober the executive director of 412 Justice, a group focused on educational justice issues among other things, said she wants the district to divest from school safety personnel and hire full-time “school climate coordinators” to implement restorative justice programs throughout the district.

“We can’t continue to fund ineffective and harmful policing practices in schools while failing to fund restorative justice, community schools expansion, and student support services. It expresses value in controlling and criminalizing Black and brown young people instead of supporting them,” she said.

Other speakers during the public hearing called for more funding for special education students as costs continue to grow.

Throughout the workshop process, board members have suggested starting the process even earlier to better inform the public about how it spends district funds.

The budget must be approved by Dec. 31.