The budget cuts to education proposed by Governor Corbett are getting a great deal of attention in the press these days. As districts struggle to balance their budgets, parents are coming to understand what impact it will have on their children’s education. Rallies are being held and two mothers sponsored the “world’s largest bake sale” in Harrisburg, emphasizing that there are not enough cookies to make up for the deficits.
I have presented two previous letters on the budget and one letter on the future of school finances. This week, I just wanted to give an update on where we presently stand.
My first budget letter outlined the 2.3 million dollar deficit we faced. I outlined cuts we made to get down to 1.5 million. These were in a variety of areas and would not have significant impact on classroom instruction. We have continued to make cuts and have now brought our deficit down to approximately $880,000. Getting to a balanced budget at this point will be difficult since we’ve already squeezed 1.5 million from our preliminary budget.
There are three variables that will be at play in getting to a balanced budget: taxation, reserves and additional cuts. Some combination of those three variables will ultimately lead us to a balanced budget.
I attended a meeting with our new secretary of education and another meeting with five legislators. The present thinking in Harrisburg is that it is time for education to deal with the financial reality of the economy. It’s our turn in the barrel, so to speak. There is talk about taking unexpected revenues of $359 and restoring some of the state budget but that will translate to a very small amount for us after other programs and districts get a piece of it.
Big changes are coming in education and they are not temporary. Multiple bills are presently pending in Harrisburg that will move toward a more “privatized” system of education (a voucher bill and a bill to significantly increase charter schools) that will lead to a competitive environment. Bills are pending to limit the ability of boards to raise taxes without referendums which means schools will be spending money and time on public relations. Changes to provide alternate paths to teach, be a principal or a superintendent are also being proposed. (They have proposed that some one with a finance degree can be a superintendent and lead the district.)
The only difficult personnel changes we have made so far is to non-instructional staff as we have eliminated a position and collapsed two other positions into one in our maintenance and technology departments. We continue to reduce positions through attrition in the teaching ranks.
We will have to adjust to a new standard. Students will need to walk farther to get the bus. Parents will need to buy all their children’s school supplies. Booster groups will be asked to make up for funding normally provided by the school. We may not be able to offer as many programs as we do now. Buildings may not be as pristine as they have been and we may not always be able to have the snow removed or grass mowed as quickly or often as we would like. We will need to begin using our General McLane Foundation to solicit donations to continue to purchase technology and science kits.
As we look to address this year’s shortfall, we must also look to the future. We have deferred maintenance and bus replacements in the 11-12 budget and those are things that eventually must be restored. I am hoping that we can develop some solutions this year that will hold us in good stead for the next few.
Our present school board and those which have preceded it, have been very responsible fiscal managers. We can thank them that we are not at the point of some school districts that will be significantly increasing class size and issuing massive layoffs. We will be discussing the budget at our May 11 study session and will need to adopt a proposed final budget in May. The final budget will not be adopted until June and hopefully at that point, we will know exactly what the state is doing, though I do not expect it to change very much.
As I was ready to send this Lancer Letter for publication, I received a letter from the Senate Democratic Caucus. They have a plan to restore funding to education and it involves some things the Republicans will not want to do. It will be an interesting fight and I suspect we will not have a state budget adopted by the end of May as they hoped. That means our proposed final budget adopted in May will be based on the Governor’s proposed budget. Hopefully, we will have a state budget by June 15 when we adopt a final budget. There has often been uncertainty about state education subsidies when we adopt our budget but this year, the stakes are higher than ever.
The Lancer Letter is a weekly editorial by Richard Scaletta, Superintendent of Schools, General McLane School District. Opinions expressed are Mr. Scaletta’s views on the issues and subjects of discussion.