09 Jun School Districts Back Increased Education Funds (PA)June 9, 2010
By: Christina KristoficSource: Bucks County Courier Times
Teachers, administrators and school board members across the state are working together to try to persuade legislators to approve the governor’s proposed $5.9 billion education budget for 2010-11.
"School districts across the state, their local revenues were down by $343 million. The governor has proposed increasing state funding by $354 million. The loss of local revenue is nearly as large as what the governor is proposing to increase next year," said Jim Buckheit, executive director for the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators. "Basically, (the funding) will keep things at the status quo. If you took out that $354 million, that means we have an even bigger hole."
Already, school districts throughout Bucks County are preparing to cut back staffing and programming to cope with losses of tax revenue brought on by the recession.
The Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators is one of 34 education-related organizations in the state trying to get equitable funding for school districts across the commonwealth.
The Pennsylvania School Funding Campaign has already got some of the things its member associations have asked for:
In 2007, the state commissioned a study of resources school districts need to help students meet state standards and assigned a dollar value to those resources.
A year later, the Legislature committed to a plan to provide those resources.
"The school funding campaign is trying to preserve that (plan) – to make sure we have a regular and consistent way of providing funding for schools," Buckheit said.
"Over the last six years, the commonwealth schools have dramatically improved achievement. We’ve gone from under half of the students meeting state standards to now over three-quarters of the students meeting state standards. And that’s largely a result of the investments made. Money does matter."
Losing tax revenue
The campaign issued a report Monday, based on a survey of school districts conducted by the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials and the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, that says state school districts saw a collective loss of $50 million in earned income tax revenue, $75 million in real estate transfer tax revenue and $220 million in interest earnings on investments.
School districts in Southeastern Pennsylvania represent about 24 percent of the total budget losses for state school districts.
"The impact of the economic downturn in the Southeast appears to be in many ways much harsher than in other parts of the state," Buckheit said.
"Traditionally, the districts have been much more well off than districts in other areas of the state. Districts in the suburban area depend so much on local revenue. … When there is a change in local revenue, it impacts them in a much greater level than those districts that receive the bulk of their funding from the state."
Districts in Bucks are feeling the crimp and preparing to cut back on programs and staffing.
Centennial School District will see some reductions in staff related to the closing of five elementary schools in the next few years. While two new schools will be built, this year’s closing of Davis Elementary School will lead to some staff reductions soon, said board member Thomas Reinboth.
The district has also cut back on some after-school busing to save about $100,000 annually.
"You have to be careful in your budgeting not to expect large increases from the state or other revenue sources. Every ye ar is going to be an adventure in budgeting, not just for our districts, but all," Reinboth said.
OTHER DISTRICTS TIGHTEN UP
The Neshaminy district’s school board is considering outsourcing transportation, food, grounds-keeping and custodial services to save more than $30 million over five years. The district is trying to negotiate contracts with both its teachers and support staff unions and asking employees to contribute to their health care premiums.
Neshaminy officials are also still talking about a list of 15 items, including charging a fee for pool use, implementing an activity fee, reducing or eliminating staff positions, increasing high school class size, and charging for transcripts to help plug a $5.6 million budget hole.
In Pennsbury, the school board is proposing a two-year labor contract that would freeze salaries for all 835 teachers, librarians, nurses, psychologists and social workers represented by the union. The board is still in negotiations with the Pennsbury Education Association.
The board is also considering reducing two professional staff members through attrition, three clerical staff members, three paraprofessionals and one management assistant to keep any tax increase as low as possible.
The Bensalem school board is considering cuts that include the elimination of 17 teaching positions and a couple of administrative positions to help keep the 2010-11 property tax increase to an average of about $118, administrators said.
The Bristol school board is considering different options to help cover an estimated $2.1 million shortfall for next school year. Options include potential staff reductions and other cuts to trim an estimated $500,00 0 from the projected operating expenses.
Central Bucks School District saw a significant drop in local tax revenues from the 2008-09 school year to 2009-10. To deal with the loss, the district tapped into its reserves – but not before it made some significant cuts by eliminating 21 teaching positions in 2009. Eighteen more are on the chopping block for the 2010-11 school year.
The district has also laid off or not replaced educational assistants, maintenance staff, bus drivers, information technology staff and others.
It cut a summer camp for kids and internship programs. And the school board made a controversial decision to eliminate walking routes at six schools so that it could save money on transportation.
The Palisades school board voted last week to lay off five teachers and has made other cuts to balance its budget.
Buckheit said school districts across the state are taking similar measures – cutting staff, eliminating educational programs (such as foreign languages and music) and increasing class sizes.
"Unless the state provides additional resources, we’re going to take a huge step backwards next year," Buckheit said.