PPS’ budget grows

PPS’ budget grows

Based on the Pittsburgh Public Schools’ (PPS) preliminary general fund budget published this week, several items are on the rise in 2020. 

Overall spending is one them, which will increase by 2.4 percent over this year and will stand at $665.6 million.  Salaries and benefits, which account for over half of the spending at $342.8 million, will be up $9.6 million from $333.2 million.  Charter school expense will stand at $96.6 million, up from $87.9 million.  Special education will total $89 million, an increase from $86.6 million.  Those three categories combined account for 80 percent of expenditures. 

PPS employment is up as well.  Headcount is to rise by 115 employees from 3,983 to 4,098.  There will be 158 new teachers, three new guidance counselors and 52 fewer clerical, health and maintenance employees.

Charter school enrollment is also up, with 4,671 school-age children attending brick-and-mortar or cyber charter schools.  Next year the ratio of charter school students to PPS students will be 0.22 to 1.  Five years ago it was 0.16 to 1.

And for the first time since 2014 the school property tax rate is to be raised.  The current millage rate is 9.84 and, if the increase is approved, would be 10.07 mills in 2020.  PPS expects to raise $192.5 million from the tax.  After accounting for $15.6 million in homestead property tax relief through gaming the net levy will be $176.9 million. 

But what is not growing? Perhaps the most critical factor: PPS student membership.  The budget notes that as of Oct. 1, 2019 membership was 22,859, down 293 from the previous Oct. 1.  The preliminary budget uses 21,275 students as the official number for the school year 2019-20.  That’s down 10 percent since 2015-16’s official membership of 23,639. 

As the budget climbs and enrollment falls, per pupil spending will increase. Based on audited data operating expenses rose $76.7 million from 2015 to 2018 and start-of-year enrollment fell 1,851: as a result cost per pupil rose from $23,333 to $28,515 (22 percent). The enrollment projection for a decade down the road (2028-29) is 18,496.  Knowing that, what will the board and administration do to curtail expenditures and change the spiraling per pupil cost?