School may be out for the summer, but education is at the center of public debate.
Working under the pressure imposed by million-dollar deficits, school boards across the state are voting on measures to cut costs and square away their budgets before the fall.
The losses will be painful, and the headlines are telling.
This is what’s going on in education news:
“Even with proposed cuts, Harrisburg School District still faces $6.6 million fiscal deficit,” reads The Patriot-News.
“Gov. Mifflin teachers contract calls for pay raise, freeze,” said the Reading Eagle.
“In Luzerne County, Lake Lehman School District passes fiscal plan with tax hike,” reported The Times Leader.
On Tuesday alone, it was reported that 12 school boards approved tax increases to help supplement tight budgets, since school districts are required to pass balanced budgets.
To the dismay of school board officials, however, tax hikes will not be enough.
Many districts have pushed through salary freezes and requested administrators accept deep pay cuts. While school districts are prohibited by state law from furloughing employees due to funding issues, some have been able to use declining enrollment, shrinking programs and school closing, consolidation or district reorganization as justifications for reducing employees.
Sometimes the realities go hand in hand. There isn’t enough money to fund programs or keep schools open, so buildings shut down and staff is cut, resulting in the elimination of special programs not deemed fundamental to education.
But extracurricular activities are not alone on the chopping block. School boards around the state are voting on a range of cost-cutting measures to compensate for budget deficits.
Transportation may also be among the casualties of the crisis. The Bucks County Courier Times, for instance, reported that the Bristol Township School District expects to save $2 million through major changes to transportation which were approved in a proposal Monday.
The plan includes “consolidating bus stops; using the elementary schools as bus stops for middle-school and high-school students; eliminating some late buses for after-school events; and mixing public and private school students on some buses, among other things.”
The difficult cuts are not going uncontested.
A protest on the streets of Pittsburgh at the end of May marked the beginning of what is quickly shaping into a tumultuous summer of controversial policymaking and tough decisions. Hundreds of people set out to protest Gov. Corbett’s proposed cuts to public education funding.
Monday, WTAE Pittsburgh reported that parents and students in Monroeville showed up to the Gateway school board meeting to protest the districts elimination of the junior high sports program. The cut is necessary if the district is to face a $500,000 budget deficit.
School Board President Dave Magill said that the move is unavoidable given Corbett’s cuts to the education budget.
Corbett has suffered big losses to his approval rating since last year – mainly due to his handling of the state budget.
Last month he spoke at a Greater Reading Chamber of Commerce & Industry dinner and emphasized that the schools are getting less money because federal stimulus money ran out.
“That money was put into the budget. It was put into education. The money disappeared. The federal government said it was one-time money, and for the first time when they said it was one-time money they meant it,” he said.
Corbett added that in order to avoid cuts last year, an average family’s taxes would have gone up by $920, and $300 more would be needed to avoid cuts now.