Before the Bell | Added state funding doesn't cover districts costs

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Each year, school funding is a contentious issue. This school year will start with the state budget adding an extra $100 million to K-12 education. But, for some districts in Central PA, even the added money doesn’t cover costs.

“We are constantly trying to find those balances,” said Cumberland Valley School District Fred Withum.

A delicate balance. Withum describes spending the district’s $140 million budget this year.

“The district has over the last couple of years really tried to become way more efficient, redistribute labor, evaluate every single program that we have in place,” Withum said.

Cumberland Valley is one of the larger districts in Central PA and growing. Just this year, the high school graduated 640 students. The very next day its 740 incoming freshman jumped on the rolls. District wide, population growth is around three percent. Added state funding, including the $100 million in this year’s state budget, is not enough.

“The increases over the past two, three or four years, which have averaged around 2%, have not kept pace with the cost of running the program,” said Withum.

“The state now is truly backing this idea of college and career readiness,” said Eastern York High School Principal Tim Mitzel.

Preparing kids for the next step has always been a focus for schools. But that focus is shifting. A state mandate, Chapter 339, requires districts start introducing kids to different careers as early as third grade. All of these types of mandates cost cash.

“When a student graduates from high school, they are ready to engage or enroll in a college or university or enter the workforce and they will be successful wherever they go,” Mitzel said.

“We are really looking to redirect the resources that we have in order to provide different kinds of opportunities,” said Withum.

Withum says the goal is to try and have new programs remain budget neutral, balancing cost and kids.

“We are really getting great return on the taxpayers investment,” he said.

New this year, Cumberland Valley is adding endorsements on top of the regular high school diploma. It will designate kids as ready for different career and post-secondary opportunities. Another step towards preparing our next generation of learners and workers.

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