State budget eases some school budget concerns, others remain

CBS 21

For many kids, it’s back to school this week. With a state budget in place, this school year will look very different for administrators. Still, when it comes to financing our kid’s education, even an on-time budget doesn’t cure everything.

“Nobody wants to raise taxes but when the state doesn't fund their share, then we have to fund the difference,” said Cumberland Valley Superintendent Dr. Fred Withum.

When the first bell rings on the 2016/2017 school year, Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts will be breathing a bit easier now that a state budget is in place.

“It was a really, really bad scenario last year,” said Dr. Emilie Lonardi, superintendent of the West York Area School District.

The nine-month log jam at the state Capitol last year meant big problems for school districts all across the commonwealth. In fact, to make up for the held up funding, many districts borrowed money to get by with the totaling nearing a billion dollars.

“The new normal is we have cut many different positions over the last few years. We are at a bare-bones staff and you know in the school business, it's the people business,” Lonardi said.

While the certainty of a state budget is positive, the amount of money coming into these school districts is not, making it very difficult from big districts to small ones to plan for the future.

“We have reduced foreign language programs, driver’s education, swimming instruction and a number of other things,” Withum said.

Despite the $250 million bump in education funding from Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget this year, Lonardi says Pennsylvania ranks 47th out of 50 states in education funding.

“The basic [education] funding is not where it should be. The special [education] funding is absolutely not where it should be. It makes everything look difficult,” she said.

Even with the reductions, money is tight, meaning using that money wisely is key.

“It has to be a multi-year financial plan for solvency of the school district,” Withum said.