The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

May 19, 2011

Survey shows potential for more school cutbacks

HARRISBURG — A growing number of Pennsylvania's school districts appear to be considering layoffs and eliminating programs such as summer school and full-day kindergarten and raising taxes by more than the rate of inflation to help address significant cutbacks in state aid that are nearly certain, according to a survey released today.

For example, 68 percent of the districts that responded are considering layoffs of instructional staff, compared with 11 percent that actually did so in this fiscal year, while 31 percent are considering eliminating full-day kindergarten, compared with practically none in this fiscal year.

A top state senator, Education Committee Chairman Jeff Piccola, R-Dauphin, criticized the survey by the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials and the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators. In a statement, he said it was designed to advance the "education establishment's insatiable appetite for more money" after he and fellow Republican senators warned districts to be cautious about spending billions in federal stimulus dollars that are now disappearing.

The survey, conducted in April, came on the heels of Republican Gov. Tom Corbett's plan to slash state aid to school districts by more than $1 billion, or more than 10 percent, with the state's poorest districts expected to be hit the hardest.

That plan is receiving strong criticism from many state lawmakers, who are exploring alternatives as they try to address an anticipated multibillion-dollar budget deficit in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

With local tax collections and revenue stagnant, the potential for school cutbacks is unprecedented, said Jay Himes of the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials.

"Up until now, districts have tried to avoid cutting direct instructional programs and things that affect the classroom, and clearly this survey indicates that the low-hanging fruit has been picked and there is nowhere to go now except cutting instructional programs," Himes said.

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