The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

July 1, 2013

How school funding affects districts

HARRISBURG — Midd-West School District in Snyder County had to shift $300,000 from its reserve fund and raise taxes by 3.6 mills to balance its 2013-14 budget.

So, word that the new state budget includes $151,000 in additional basic education funding didn’t really impress Midd-West Superintendent Wesley Knapp.

“While (Gov. Tom Corbett) says he is not raising taxes, he is causing a trickle-down tax burden to the local property owners, and no one knows this better than he,” Knapp said.

“He should be ashamed, but I am sure he isn’t.”  

But the governor notes that the state is spending more than ever on basic education costs – $5.52 billion for basic education, a

$122.5 million increase over the prior year.

“This budget once again places education as our highest priority, accounting for 41 cents of every state dollar,’’ Corbett said at the ceremony in which he signed the budget late Sunday.

“Contrary to claims that may say otherwise, education is being prioritized, with approximately $10 billion being set aside for kindergarten through 12th grade education,” said Rep. Michele Brooks, R-Crawford County.

But Democrats and school officials argue that the funding is insufficient to cover rising costs for things like pensions and health care.

“The average school district increase is 2.3 percent. However, the increase ranges by school district from as high as 22.5 percent to as low as 0.7 percent,” said Rep. Joseph Markosek, D-Allegheny, Democratic chairman of the  House appropriations committee.

Austin Area School District in Potter County was the big winner with the 22.5 percent increase in state subsidy. Rockwood School District in Somerset County was the big loser, getting an increase of only 0.7 percent – an additional $23,774.

“This budget severely underfunds our school district’s needs and is a disservice to all of our children and their families,” said Rep. Jaret Gibbons, D-Lawrence.

“The lack of funding, which has been a hallmark of the state budget under Governor Corbett, will force schools to lay off teachers and staff, cut vital programs such as music and art and potentially increase property taxes, which then places the burden of making up for the lack of funding on taxpayers,” Gibbons said.

While the cuts in state dollars in basic education funding and other programs that the state had used to drive dollars to local schools are challenging, Gerald Zahorchak, the Greater Johnstown School District superintendent, said he is encouraged by a few developments in the budget.

The state is spending more on early education and has begun to invest more in safe schools efforts, Zahorchak said.

Zahorchak, a former state education secretary, added that he is also pleased by the selection of former Cumberland Valley School District superintendent William Harner as acting secretary of education.

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