The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

April 23, 2014

Online ed could be answer to school fiscal woes, Cohrs says

By Francis Scarcella
The Daily Item

— SELINSGROVE — Superintendent Chad Cohrs said the Selinsgrove Area School District will last another 10 to 12 years before it could face closure unless the district moves in another direction — and fast.

Cohrs, addressing the school board during Tuesday night’s meeting, said the district is financially unstable.

“We are on the edge of continuing as a district or being nonexistent,” he said. “It’s time to make a change.”

That change, Cohrs said, is moving to more modern technology.

The reasons the district is in trouble are salaries, pensions and health care, but Cohrs said Selinsgrove is only one of many districts in the state facing those woes.

“The retirement goes up almost double-digit percentages every year,” he said Wednesday. “Add the salaries, and it’s a double whammy. It’s killing all school districts.”

The Selinsgrove board Monday approved a proposed $37.47 million spending plan for 2013-14. Spending is up $1.04 million, or 2.9 percent, and taxes will increase an average $35 a year. Personnel costs make up nearly 74 percent of the total budget, with major increases in retirement costs, employee salaries and wages and medical insurance expenses.

Cohrs explained that using online technology and letting students learn at their own pace in computer labs may be the way of the future — and cheaper.

And that would eliminate the need for some teachers, he said.

“We need to use more online learning methods,” Cohrs said. “More customizing and students working at their own pace.”

He said there are few districts in Pennsylvania that are using this technique, but he has been researching it and has seen it work.

“We need to restructure how we operate,” he said. “If personnel costs stay the same, then we would have to make reductions in other areas and that would impact our services. That we can’t do.”

Raising taxes isn’t the answer, Cohrs said.

“We can’t raise them high enough to cover our operating expenses,” he said.