Pittsburgh school district ends '13 with $20.8 million surplus

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Pittsburgh Public Schools ended 2013 with an operating surplus of $20.8 million, official year-end figures showed Wednesday night.

A $9.86 million operating deficit had been forecast when the calendar year budget was approved.

When this year's budget was being put together, a surplus of $2.38 million was anticipated, but the final amount turned out to be significantly larger. The surplus was large enough to leave a nearly $103.2 million unreserved fund balance at the end of 2013.

One of the reasons the district is in better financial shape than expected a year ago is the earned income tax collections -- they were about $14 million higher than budgeted in 2013. The amount collected was $9.3 million more than in 2012, an increase of 9.2 percent.

In addition, real estate transfer tax collections were up about $3.9 million over the budgeted amount. The transfer taxes, which totaled $10.9 million, were higher than they have ever been.

Ron Joseph, the district's chief operations officer, said the district is in a better position, but some of the gains were one-time situations, such as the timing of certain expenditures. He said some of those favorable conditions offset the loss in real estate tax income. Property tax collection was $9.5 million less than budgeted, at least in part because of property assessment appeals.

There also were some savings, including general fund expenditures running $18.8 million below 2012, which was attributed at least in part to the district's efforts to control costs.

Even with the improved picture at the end of 2013, the district is forecasting a $14.5 million deficit this calendar year, leading the district to run out of money in 2017 when the projected deficit is $59.8 million. The board last year expected the district to run out of money in 2016.

Board member Mark Brentley Sr. questioned how the final numbers could be so much better than projected, saying he wondered about "our true financial condition."

Superintendent Linda Lane noted the rolling forecast still shows the district going into the red "in a few years." As to whether some of the gains of 2013 can be repeated or were one-time events, Ms. Lane said, "It's going to take more analysis to know for sure."

Education writer Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955. First Published March 26, 2014 9:00 PM

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