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School Superintendents Call For More State Funding, Lower Pension Costs

Mark Nootbaar
90.5 WESA

Pennsylvania law mandates school districts submit preliminary budgets by the last day of May, and several Superintendents across the state used Wednesday’s milestone to call for more financial support from the state.

“Without increased state funding we will, at some point, loose the ability to provide the same level of education that we have,” Gary Peiffer, Carlynton School District Superintendent, said.

The 2017-18 state budget proposed by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and the House Republicans both increase basic education funding by $100 million. However, districts say that won’t cover their growing expenses.

“All post-recession increases in state funding to school districts have gone exclusively to pensions,” said Plum Borough School District Superintendent Timothy Glasspool.

Making the budget situation worse for schools is the fact that the same budget proposals decrease funding for student transportation by $50 million.

At the same time, districts are also complaining that the state continues to increase special education mandates.  West Mifflin Schools Superintendent Dan Castagna said the state legislature seems to have placed targets on the backs of schools in southwestern Pennsylvania.

“Funding inequities continue to broaden with the intent to force districts into no option mergers,” he said.  “If immediate systemic action is not taken, I fear that the public school buildings in our local area will soon look exactly like the dreary abandon steel mills that were once symbols of growth and hope.”

Castagna went on to complain that the funding formula for cyber charter schools puts cyber schools at an unfair advantage. He is calling on the state legislature to lower per-pupil payments to cyber schools to account for them not having to maintain buildings and grounds.

Superintendents from nine Pittsburgh-area school districts gathered at West Mifflin High School Wednesday to send their message to Harrisburg through the media. Similar events were held in other regions of the state.

“Unfortunately the costs we can control are those costs that highly devastate rigorous academic programing,” Yough School District Superintendent Janet Sardon said. “Whether it’s cutting back on students entering career and technical school, cutting technology, cutting curriculum resources, eliminating position.”

Sardon said the cuts are “not pretty” and they make it hard to uphold academic standards and provide opportunities for students after graduation.

The Wolf administration responded by saying the governor “has been the leading voice in Harrisburg for driving more state funding to basic education, delivering more than $400 million in new funds since taking office.”

The written statement went on to say that Wolf is working to reform the pension system and he “understands the pressure on school districts and knows there is still work to do. He will continue to fight to restore cuts made under the previous administration and put more money into classrooms.”

The state budget is due June 30, which is the same day the districts must have their budgets in place.