The Math of City Job School Cuts

The Pittsburgh Public Schools’ board of directors just voted on another round of job cuts (furloughs and layoffs) adding on to the ones last month in order to deal with financial shortfalls and declining enrollment. We documented recent tax and expenditure details of the District last November and warned of tough times to come.

As of the 2009 audited financial statement, the District’s job headcount included 2,315 teachers and 2,570 non-teachers. The latter group includes everyone in administration, instruction employees not identified as teachers, pupil affairs, health, operations and maintenance, and food service. As of that year the ratio of non-teachers to teachers was 1.1/1.

Last month’s job cuts of 147 people was concentrated in the central office, and this month’s reduction of people identified as paraprofessionals (13), family support (4), non-professional (2), behavior intervention (6), career/technical (1), and early childhood coordinators (2) drops the non-teacher count from its 2009 total of 2,570 to 2,395.

Yesterday’s job cuts also affected 23 teachers, and that drops the teacher count to 2,292. That drops the non-teacher to teacher ratio to 1.04/1. Depending on how cuts affecting eight part-time teachers figure into the headcount, the ratio might bump slightly upward in favor of non-teachers.

Board Bemoans Pittsburgh Schools Job Cuts

With moans of regret and lamentations over the sadness they felt, members of the Pittsburgh School Board voted by an 8 to 1 margin to eliminate 217 positions from its horribly bloated payroll. Of that number 147 represents currently employed staff that will be laid off in the budget cutting measure that is expected to save $11.5 million.

Here’s the bad news for the board. Their budget cutting is just getting started. Last November the Allegheny Institute warned the school board of a gigantic impending financial crisis about to land on its doorstep. Despite sharply declining enrollment and falling real estate tax collections during the 2006 to 2010 period, school spending continued to rise as new non-teaching employees were added in a display of unbridled profligacy and irresponsibility. The burgeoning future budget shortfall was temporarily filled by jumps in state funding and Federal "stimulus" funds.

As we have pointed out for some time, the state would eventually have to rein in spending in the face of a $4 billion revenue shortfall and Federal funds would dry up as the Congress turns its attention to exploding deficits and economy corroding debt buildup. Now the wolf is at the school house door in Pittsburgh as a result of years of failed financial stewardship and failure to deliver schools capable of adequately educating students.

No amount of pointing out their highly visible shortcomings was ever enough. The board, the teachers’ union, the superintendents and too many politicians in thrall to the specious malarkey of educrats resisted any meaningful reforms, opting for gimmicks and ever more spending as the answer to the problem of delivering quality education.

One could hope that game is over. But in all likelihood, the board’s lachrymose caterwauling as they voted to cut 217 positions signals an unrepentant mentality that continues to believe that in a couple of years, things will get back to normal.

Given the prospects for further enrollment declines and a much tougher stance in Harrisburg with regard to the unproductive and wasteful use of education dollars in the City, the board’s hopes for a miracle on a white horse to ride in are wishful dreaming. It is a good time for the board to lay in a large supply of crying towels.

Will PAT Board Snub SPC?

The board of the Port Authority (PAT) will meet to decide how to spend the $45 million bailout recently approved by the Southwest Planning Commission (SPC). Will it succumb to demands by the union to spend it all over the next six months and thereby avoid significant service and job cuts? Or will it spread the money over the next 18 months as the SPC required as a condition to approving the fund transfer to PAT?

Normally, it would be reasonable to expect the board would honor the conditions imposed by the SPC. However, given the past behavior of the board and its unwillingness to deal forcefully with the union there is some question about what the board will do.

If the board accedes to union demands, it will be a slap in the face of the SPC members from outside Allegheny County who voted for the transfer of funds to PAT. But no one should feel any sympathy for those members. They made a huge mistake in voting for the transfer in the first place and accomplished two things, both unfortunate.

First, they granted a postponement of the day of reckoning for the Authority and the union to confront its runaway legacy cost problem and its very high labor cost and inefficiency issues. Second, the SPC’s action has further cemented the union’s conviction that state government will always provide bailout funding to reward the union’s intransigence.

The fact there is a discussion of an option to snub the SPC is a sure indication of the need for the state to take dramatic steps to correct PAT’s problems and to rein in the union’s power.