City school budget predicts deficit

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Pittsburgh Public Schools chief operations officer Ronald Joseph has previewed a preliminary 2014 budget that would have a substantial deficit whether property taxes are increased or not.

In the $529.15 million preliminary budget highlighted at a board committee meeting Tuesday, Mr. Joseph said the district is limited by the state to a property tax increase of no more than 1.7 percent under what is known as the Act 1 index.

That would raise about $2.6 million and would increase the millage rate from 9.65 mills to 9.81 mills.

Superintendent Linda Lane today is scheduled to release the full preliminary budget. On Tuesday evening, she declined to commit to whether she will recommend a tax increase but said it's one way to recoup some of the losses from property reassessment appeals.

The appeals are expected to cost the district about $10 million this year.

The board is expected to vote on the budget, which covers a calendar year, on Dec. 18.

The proposal is 1.4 percent or about $7.3 million more than the 2013 adopted budget of $521.8 million.

If the board raises taxes by the full 1.7 percent, the deficit in 2014 would be $15.67 million. If it doesn't raise taxes, the deficit would be $18.27 million.

In either scenario, district officials forecast the district will run out of money in 2016 when the deficit would reach $49.63 million in 2016 if taxes aren't raised or $47.04 million if they are.

In the 2013 budget of $521.8 million, district officials forecast a deficit of $9.8 million. Instead, Mr. Joseph said, the district expects a surplus of $2.7 million.

The district is in the midst of developing an envisioning plan aimed at improving academics and the financial situation. Ms. Lane is expected to release an envisioning proposal next month.

The preliminary budget does not account for changes that might take place as part of that proposal.

In addition to the preliminary general fund budget, Mr. Joseph presented a preliminary $15 million capital budget for 2014. Proposed major maintenance projects include elevator installations, science lab improvements, operational needs and safety, code and accessibility requirements.

The biggest category -- $5 million -- is for electrical systems.

Proposed projects over $1 million include $1.5 million to renovate chemistry labs at Pittsburgh Allderdice High School in Squirrel Hill; $1.1 million for an elevator at Beechwood PreK-5 in Beechview; $1.5 million for an elevator at Linden K-5 in Point Breeze; and $1.3 million for an elevator at Whittier K-5 in Mount Washington.

Education writer Eleanor Chute: or 412-263-1955.

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