News Room

Educators more concerned about this year’s budget than new proposals

Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposal for significant budget increases to public education drew a uniform response from school officials, teacher union leaders and education advocacy groups: The promise of more money next year is meaningless without a working budget this year.

“It’s hard to get happy with numbers if the numbers don’t mean anything,” said David Seropian, business manager for the McKeesport Area School District. “If the numbers come to fruition then we would be pleased.”

Sto-Rox Superintendent Terry DeCarbo said he was “optimistic but skeptical” of the governor’s 2016-17 proposed spending plan.

And North Hills School District Director of Finance and Operations David Hall said he paid no attention to the governor’s proposal on Tuesday because “right now it’s just pie in the sky.”

Mr. Wolf’s education funding proposals are based on the assumption that the framework budget he reached with Senate Republicans in December will be made into law.

That means his proposal assumes the state adds $377 million in the current year to the main funding line for K-12 education. The 2016-17 budget proposal would add another $200 million in the new budget year.

In addition, the governor would add $60 million next year for early childhood education on top of a $60 million increase he hopes for this year and proposes an additional $50 million for special education on top of $50 million he hopes will be enacted in this year’s budget.

The money would be distributed using the fair funding formula created and adopted by the bipartisan Basic Education Funding Commission in June 2015.

Statements from the Education Law Center, Pennsylvania School Boards Association and the Pennsylvania State Education Association applauded the governor’s proposed funding increases, but urged legislators to work with administration to approve a budget and get funds flowing to the schools.

“This is just unacceptable. It’s nothing short of a crisis and it must be fixed,” said PSEA president Jerry Oleksiak said.

Both McKeesport and Sto-rox have borrowed money to get through this school year as a result of frozen state subsides.

McKeesport borrowed $5 million last fall to meet expenses, a debt that was repaid when districts received about 45 percent of their state funding last month. But the McKeesport board is preparing to take another $3.6 million line of credit next month if a state budget is not approved and the remaining subsidies released.

Sto-Rox is functioning by paying bills from a $7.3 million line of credit it arranged last summer.

“We are $2 million into it and that $2 million is all for the safety of the staff and students, the day-to-day operations, just keeping the lights on. We are standing in place on initiatives and rollouts because we can’t fund it. We are just maintaining,” Mr. DeCarbo said.

Linda Hippert, executive director of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, said the lack of adequate state funding is becoming evident in the gap between districts that have financial resources and those that do not.

“We are applauding the governor for sticking to his vision,” Mrs. Hippert said. “But at the same time we as a commonwealth, with the legislators, have to have and share a vision for education and determine what it takes to meet that at some level because we are moving in the wrong direction.”

Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Linda Lane said “we totally appreciate [the governor’s] unwavering resolve to address funding issues in the schools across the Commonwealth” and urged legislators to “resolve this in a way that we can all move ahead.”

“At the end of the day, the kids are still going to school every day. None of us can ever forget that,” Mrs. Hippert said.

Molly Born contributed. Mary Niederberger: [email protected], 412-263-1590. On Twitter @MaryNied.