Some ABC’s of the School Budget
On the heels of a Citywide referendum that approved a tax hike for libraries (1/4 of a mill) and the 1 mill increase by County Council Tuesday night, residents of the Pittsburgh Public School District (City of Pittsburgh and Borough of Mt. Oliver) can be relieved that the 2012 budget contains no tax increase. But they should be concerned that the trends that have plagued the District show no signs of abating.
Enrollment continues to fall; it stands at 25,031 for the 2011-12 school year but the District is planning for additional school closings, realignment, and possible additional layoffs in 2012. And the same legacy cost issues that have impacted other local governments in the region are present in the District. The superintendent’s budget message points out that "despite [headcount] reductions…benefits and pension costs will rise by $31 million over the next four years. From 2004 through 2012, our pension cost per employee increased by 82 percent.." Health care costs fared no better, and both outpaced inflation.
The budget has $508 million in revenues and $529 million in expenditures, requiring the District to dip into the fund balance. It is interesting to note two facts on the revenue side of the equation: first, the local-to-state split in funding is 53% to 46% and second, based on the assessed value of real estate characteristics outlined in the budget (taken from the state equalization board) residential value accounts for 57% of total assessed value. Of the 43 districts in Allegheny County, nine others besides Pittsburgh have less than 60% of their total assessed value represented by residential property.