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EASD mulls Corbett budget
By: GARY P. KLINGER Review Correspondent, Staff Writer
Some parts of Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget call for an increase in education spending. But as members of the Ephrata Area School District (EASD) Board heard Feb. 27 at their meeting held at the Clay Elementary School, an increase may actually represent a small decrease in some instances.
District Business Manager Kristee Reichard outlined details of the governor’s budget and discussed its likely impact to the local district. She explained that even a flat budget would not account for increased costs the district has been challenged to confront. And while some parts of the proposed budget increase slightly, other areas are flat or decrease with the net affect being a potential decrease in state funding.
The state is projecting a .34 percent increase in the Student Achievement Education Block Grant (or SAEBG) statewide. This would consist of the current basic education subsidy, pupil transportation, nonpublic and charter school transportation and the cost of school employee’s Social Security.
That same budget calls for flat spending on special education. This is bad news for EASD. State funding for special education has been flat for five years while local costs have increased $565,872.
Even worse news is that the school nutrition incentive program has been eliminated in Corbett’s budget. So, too, has the Accountability Block Grant which will impact efforts at class size reduction in kindergarten, funding for a math and literacy coach and the two home-school visitors.
Not all news was bad news, however. For PSERs funded at the state level, the budget includes 52 percent to PSERs so that the PSERs subsidy can continue at 50 percent. PSERs rates have increased 3.71 percent in one year, going from 8.65 to 12.36 percent. For 2012-2013, this represents a $923,224 increase before the subsidy. Rate hikes are forecast for each of the next four school years, projected at 16.75 percent in 2013-2014, 21.25 percent in 2014-2015 and 25.56 percent in 2015-2016.
Headlines have been made over the proposed shift in statewide student evaluations from the current PSSA tests to the new Keystone exams. With fiscal concerns and the sluggish economy continuing to wreak havoc on budgets, the state has delayed full implementation of the new exams by two full years until 2017. Additionally, it reduces the number of required exams from 10 to three exams for biology, literature and algebra 1. It will also eliminate the requirement for results from the Keystone Exams become a part of the class grade. That means those results will continue to stand alone as does the current PSSA scores in providing both local and state officials a snapshot of educational progress.
It is unclear at this time what impact the governor’s proposed Pennsylvania School Report Card initiative may have locally. Corbett is calling for development and implementation of a new accountability system to assess public school districts and public schools including the Career and Technology Centers, charter and cyber schools. These report cards would grade schools based on student achievement, district culture and fiscal efficiency. The price tag for this statewide is expected to be $471,000.
Corbett is also proposing a teacher and principal evaluation tool which would include measures of practice and multiple measures of student achievement. Currently the state is already piloting a teacher evaluation tool. A new principal evaluation tool is set to pilot in 2014-2015. The price tag for this initiative is set at $3.7M in this fiscal year alone.
After briefing board members on the broad details of the governor’s budget, she discussed how this may impact EASD. Based on signals early on in the local budgeting process, EASD estimated an increase for SAEBG of $201,000. While the budget currently on the table calls for an actual increase of $327,554, district officials are not expected that much in the final budget. And even with this increase, it represents $591,492 less than it received as recently as the 2010-2011 budget.
The district will also be able count on $192,518 less for the Accountability Block Grant and $4,000 less for school nutrition. Any new increases to transportation and salaries will be paid 100 percent by EASD. For 2012-2013 the state will subsidize transportation at 35 percent and social security at 50 percent.
"If we could look at our bus routes and eliminate a bus or two through re-routing and save $45,000 per bus that would go right to the bottom line and that would not need to be shared with the state," said Reichard of ways the district may need to work their budget into balance.
Reichard as well as board president Timothy Stayer, who recently attended a web seminar on the topic of this year’s budget, stressed that at this point the proposed budget is just that: a proposed budget.
While district officials are obviously concerned about budget challenges, Reichard pointed out that EASD is in a better position than other districts because.
"In other districts building projects are on hold since only so much money is in the pipeline and nobody knows if they are in the pipeline or not," explained Reichard. "And they are also facing possible spending cuts elsewhere, from language arts to music, from sports programs to offering fewer electives, possible furloughs and more."
Reichard and District Superintendent Dr. Gerald Rosati both stressed that EASD is not quite in that position yet because they saw the gathering storm clouds years and acted to prepare the district for the leaner days now on the horizon. District-wide faculty and administrators have been held accountable for aggressive cost cutting measures while at the same time logging greater efficiencies. The district has been able to save even more by often not hiring to fill a vacancy created by retirement or resignation, opting instead to use intra-district transfers to fill the needs without increasing head count.
"We are in a good position for this year but what about next year?" Reichard rhetorically asked board members.
Rosati weighed in on the challenges ahead.
"If this trend continues eventually the board will be forced to look at non-required areas," said Rosati. "We can only not fill so many positions. Class sizes are edging up. As (the state) takes away money and block grants we will need to offset this in our budget. We are trying to stay ahead of this trend with less and less money."
A somber Rosati expressed his concerns for the future.
"As of today we are OK due to attritions and block grants but add this into the formula five years out and we’re concerned about the impact," Rosati told board members. "Look at what is going on in other districts. We may soon need to look at those programs not required by school code. We are committed to a program that gives our students in Ephrata that rich involvement in the educational process."
Rosati urged the board to continue being vigilant and proactive into the future.
"We are not there yet but please listen to what is happening," Rosati pleaded. "If the governor takes out the $201,000 in block grant I think we can offset it for this year but not next. "
In an effort to make up the difference, the district may soon turn to taking over leadership of certain programs currently handled by IU 13. Rosati explained that while the Intermediate Unit had helped the district to operate various programs, the district may soon be in a position to do handle such programs more cost effectively at the local schools.
"We are soon able to educated some of these students (currently educated at IU facilities) here at home base and not send them out to other areas for specialized program," noted Rosati. "Much will depend on seats available; for example if we have capacity for 10 but only utilize six, we could bring others in to our district. Some of our neighboring districts have expressed an interest in using our local program.
Rosati explained that the district is "absolutely ready" to take back over some programs, especially those programs housed locally but run by the IU. He stressed a commitment to make sure the district offers a high quality program, saying this might be one way to help offset the downward tumbling of dollars.
With regard to staffing, Rosati said the district does not want to look at furloughs but expressed a firm commitment to make sure EASD is best utilizing those staff already in place, transferring where it makes sense.
EASD is working on to finalize its budget for next year by June.
For more information on EASD, visit easdpa.org. Gary P. Klinger welcomes questions, suggestions and comments via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. More BUDGET, page A16