Pittsburgh school board submits budget

Officials will try to reduce deficit

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Pittsburgh Public Schools officials have released a $521.8 million proposed preliminary budget for 2013, but efforts to pare down the $9.86 million deficit in it will continue into the new year.

School officials are concerned about a growing deficit that, if changes aren't made, will result in the district running out of money in 2015. Until then, it can rely on its fund balance, which is expected to total $66 million at the start of the year. The proposal is 1.5 percent less than the 2012 budget and holds the line on taxes.

The school board is expected to vote Dec. 19 on the budget, which was released Wednesday. A special hearing is scheduled for noon Dec. 3 at board headquarters in Oakland.

The district has solicited proposals for help in "envisioning a 21st Century educational delivery model," which is intended to improve efficiency and effectiveness in the district. The board may choose a firm in December. The request for proposals suggests planning over 30 to 90 days, an engagement process of four to nine months and implementation throughout 2013-2015. The district is seeking outside funding to help with the cost.

With a firm to help push plans along, chief of staff Lisa Fischetti said, "You get further faster. We don't have time to waste."

Ms. Fischetti didn't say what a new plan might look like, noting community engagement will be sought to gather and develop ideas.

"Good ideas can come from a lot of places," she said.

Part of the effort to reach out to the community takes place at 6 p.m. today when school superintendent Linda Lane presents the "state of the district." The event, which takes place before an invited crowd at Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12, Downtown, can be viewed live at www.stateofthedistrict.org. Participation is invited via Twitter with the hashtag #ppsprogress.

With the substantial cuts already made, Ms. Fischetti said, "You might think there's no more blood to get out of this rock."

But, she said, Ms. Lane believes there are solutions to problems.

Ms. Fischetti isn't ruling out additional school closings, saying, "I think we always need to look at making sure our infrastructure is aligned to the needs of our students and families."

She said, "When you're facing the kind of challenges we're facing, we have to be looking at everything."

She noted one way the district may be able to reduce costs is by increasing blended learning, which is a combination of online and regular classroom education.

In the request for proposals, Ms. Lane noted, "We must find ways to generate revenue, leverage technology as a way to control costs, and provide schools that attract our families and meet their needs in ways [we] may not have done before."

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Education writer Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955.


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