While the state budget impasse affects schools across the state, Pittsburgh Public Schools ranks among the best-prepared, according to a review conducted by state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale.
“Our audit has shown that this is clearly the most successful financially run district that we’ve seen in the entire state from an urban perspective,” DePasquale said.
The district has a general fund balance of $192.2 million and therefore hasn’t had to borrow any money to stay in operation. It’s the largest school district fund in the state, DePasquale said.
The district maintained a surplus over the last four years by reducing staff to match declines in enrollment, cutting debt by $142 million and selling off unused buildings.
“About $900 million has been borrowed across Pennsylvania urban, suburban and rural schools just to keep the lights on, and Pittsburgh is not one of them,” DePasquale said.
Although ahead financially, DePasquale reiterated out that Pittsburgh Public is far behind academically. The district's solid financial footing should help in its future academic ventures, he said, warning PPS officials not to under-budget to the point that it hinders educators' ability to meet student needs.
“The previous administration in Harrisburg had been pushing districts to spend all of their fund balances,” DePasquale said, “and the ones that did that are now incurring the largest interest payments and fees because they had to go to market quicker than everybody else."
All of this, he said, has been brought on by state legislators failing to pass a timely budget. The two-party stalemate is nearing its six month.
DePasquale said it’s not clear if the state will reimburse other schools across the state for interest incurred on any loans acquired during the impasse.
“So whatever that cost is, that is likely going to be just something that is going to have to be eaten in a budget,” he said. “And if you’ve already had to borrow just to keep the lights on, that extra million dollars in fees -- the tooth fairy’s not going to pay that.”
For additional savings, DePasquale recommended Pittsburgh Public could sell 24 more parcels of unused land and keep better data on the number of non-resident students enrolled in the district.