New Castle News

July 3, 2013

School funding up, but is it enough?

John Finnerty

HARRISBURG — The 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 district 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 noted 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 where he signed the budget late Sunday night.

“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 the funding is insufficient to cover rising costs for things such as 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 County, Democratic chairman of the House appropriations committee.

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

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

“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.”

Gerald Zahorchak, superintendent at the Greater Johnstown School District, said he is encouraged by a few developments in the budget.

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

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

What are we getting here?

Statewide basic education funding in the school year just ended was $5.39 billion.

For the 2013-14 school year, the total funding statewide will be $5.52 billion, that represents a 2.3 percent increase.

Following are the funding amounts for the 2012-13 school year in Lawrence County’s eight school districts, followed by the 2013-14 funding and the increase it represents.

•Ellwood City — $10.96 million, $11.11 million, 1.4 percent

•Laurel — $7.28 million, $7.38 million, 1.4 percent

•Mohawk — $9.58 million, $9.688 million, 1.1 percent

•Neshannock — $2.99 million, $3.055 million, 2.2 percent

•New Castle — $21.5 million, $21.8 million, 1.4 percent

•Shenango — $7.03 million, $7.125 million, 1.2 percent

•Union — $4.5 million, $4.57 million,1.4 percent

•Wilmington — $5.4 million, $5.5 million, 1.6 percent.

(Sources: Senate Appropriation Committee and House Democratic Caucus)