Lancer Letter – Senate Education Hearing

Submitted by Richard Scaletta, GM School District

As you may be aware, the Pennsylvania Senate Education Committee was in Erie last week to learn more about the Erie situation. I was one of three county superintendents to testify at the hearing. My full testimony can be found on our website. I recommend that you read it as it contains charts with specific data that you will find interesting.

For the purposes of this week’s Lancer Letter, I will give you bullet-points to summarize the hearing.

The committee spent most of the time questioning the officials from the Erie school district. My summary of those discussions would be:

The committee seemed interested in determining to what degree the Erie District has attempted to “right its own ship”

After a period of time, the committee seemed satisfied that Erie has done all that it can.

The committee wanted assurance that any additional state funding to Erie would be temporary and enable to district to get on a course of independent financial solvency.
The Erie District officials confirmed that additional funding would be temporary and allow the district to become independently financially solvent.

As you know, Erie is consolidating its schools and will have only two high schools. Provided that the temporary help from the state comes and the consolidation efforts net the savings expected, the drastic measure of closing the high schools will be avoided. We, the county superintendents, testified as to the impact to the county schools if they did close the Erie high schools.
The summary of my testimony is as follows:

• General McLane has been a well-managed, financially disciplined school district.

Despite that solid management and a good fund balance, we were still hit hard in 2011 when stimulus money dried up and we had to take many actions to cut operating expenses.
General McLane is not a “wealthy district” based on statistics from the 2010 census.

All funds we’ve raised with the tax increases of the last 5 years have gone completely to increased pension payments and increased charter school payments.
With the fair funding formula, our state subsidy is dropping significantly – from around $300,000 annually to $73,000 next year.

Our long term financial forecast shows that the district could exhaust our fund balance and be facing insolvency by as early as 2027 if current state funding trends continue.
The reason a well-managed, financially stable district could face future insolvency is simple math: pension and charter schools are expenses we cannot control and our income is limited by Act 1 of 2006 (and the ability of local taxpayers to pay).

If just 200 students from Erie were to come to GM, it would cost us an additional 1.66 million per year.

Since Erie would not be able to pay us tuition for those students, we could be insolvent as early as 2022 with that additional cost burden.

State law requires children to be educated up until the age of 17 yet does not require school districts to have high schools. If Erie students flooded the county and we were all then put into the financial position Erie is now, we could all close our high schools. Given the current state law, it would then be the state’s responsibility to educate the high school students of Erie county.

Throughout the course of the hearing, a number of the senators stated their support for “choice.” Nonetheless, I clearly stated my position on this which frequent readers of this column know well. I explained that the taxpayers of General McLane are providing schools scoring in the 80’s and 90’s on the state’s evaluation system and yet, our taxpayers are forced to pay for children to attend cyber charter schools scoring in the 40’s. What about choice for you, the taxpayers?

I’m not sure what the education committee will be able to do for Erie or what will happen with education funding in the state. I do know that the choice proponents do not understand they have allowed PA to grow to 637 school districts, 500 traditional and 137 charters. One senator at another event referred to the past increases the state has made to education asking, “When did $100 million and $400 become trivial?” I offered an answer: “When pension costs and charter school costs went out of control! You either have to increase the size of the pie or decrease the number of slices if you want those increases to be helpful.” If we weren’t making these large pension contributions and charter school payments, we wouldn’t need a significant annual increase in the education subsidy!

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, and not necessarily those of or our sponsors.

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