The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

July 2, 2013

School superintendent knocks state hike in basic-education funds

By John Finnerty
The Daily Item

— MIDDLEBURG - 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 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 said 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 during 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, a Republican from Crawford County.

But Democrats and school officials argue that the funding is insufficient in terms of covering 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, a Democrat from Allegheny County and Democratic chairman of the House appropriations committee.

The Austin Area School District in Potter County was the big winner with the 22.5 percent increase in state subsidy. The Rockwood School District in Somerset County was the big loser, only getting the 0.7 percent increase, which is 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, a Democrat from Lawrence County. “The lack of funding, which has been a hallmark of the state budget under Gov. 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.”

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, 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, Zahorchak said.

He said he also is pleased by the selection of former Cumberland Valley School District Superintendent William Harner as acting secretary of education.