Thomas Knudsen certainly has his work cut out for him.

The recently appointed Chief Recovery Officer of the Philadelphia School District is faced with a seemingly impossible task: trim an additional $61 million from the district’s budget — by June.

While most education officials hail Knudsen — who recently helped the Philadelphia Gas Company finds it way back to solvency — as perhaps the right man for the job, many wonder what this cut means to the more than 170,000 students enrolled in the school district.

“I don’t know if there are any easy answers,” said state Rep. Jim Roebuck, Democratic chairman of the House Education Committee. “You’re talking about cutting beyond the bone, into the bone and through the bone. These cuts will have a major impact on the school district’s ability to deliver quality education.

“I’m not certain, given what the circumstances are, what the options could be,” Roebuck continued. “When [the district] got a budget in place, it had ‘x’ amount of dollars, and now it’s forced to go back and cut it. You end up reducing the ability to deliver what you are supposed to deliver — a good education.”

In its organizational shake-up, the school district also announced that Leroy Nunery II, who served as interim superintendent, would remain with the district in a reduced capacity, as will Michael Masch, who formerly served as the district’s chief financial officer.

The prevailing thought is that the $61 million in cuts is bound to be painful, no matter where they occur.

“With all these reductions, we are losing the essential functions of our society,” Roebuck said. “I think this is extremely dangerous, and threatens the future of our young people.”

City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, who serves as chairwoman of Council’s education committee, echoed many of Roebuck’s sentiments.

“We worked with Knudsen, and think he’s a good person and will do the very best job that he can, but these cuts are very frightening,” Blackwell said. “Obviously, what we intend to do as an education committee is have the SRC talk to our committee and the full City Council about where they are, what they are doing and to explain in detail how they want to do these cuts.”

Toward that end, Blackwell said that she will introduce a resolution asking for a hearing on the details before these cuts go through the budgeting process.

“It’s my responsibility as Chair of the Education Committee, to say ‘okay, let’s talk about it, what are your plans to inform the public, and what criteria [the district used] to make any decisions about budgets or school closings,’” Blackwell said. “We’re risking losing traditional schools and charter schools, and that is what is frightening.

“This was a very extreme decision.”

 

Contact Staff Writer Damon C. Williams at (215) 893-5745 or dwilliams@phillytrib.com.

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