State Suspends $3.2M In Ringing Rocks’ Reimbursement

POTTSTOWN PA – “The devil is in the details,” Pottsgrove School District Business Administrator David Nester regularly reminds its Board of School Directors. And as Nester has rummaged through details of last week’s state budget address by Gov. Tom Corbett, he told board members Tuesday (Feb. 14, 2012) he’s discovered a roughly $3.2 million devil.

Business Administrator David Nester works before Tuesday's board meeting at Pottsgrove Middle School

That’s how much money the state Department of Education promised, back in 2010, to partially compensate Pottsgrove for the $16 million debt it incurred in rebuilding and expanding Ringing Rocks Elementary School on Kauffman Road. The so-called PlanCon money hasn’t yet been paid by the state and now, under the Corbett budget unveiled Feb. 7, the potential exists it could stiff the district for that amount.

Nester announced the Education Department last year ran out of money for PlanCon, the lengthy and paperwork-filled process for planning and construction of public schools statewide. Corbett’s budget calls for a one-year moratorium on new PlanCon submissions, Nester said, and casts doubt upon the future of payments approved but not banked.

“I don’t know whether or not we’ll receive any compensation from the state for building Ringing Rocks,” he reported.

If the PlanCon cash falls through, district taxpayers might end up paying the $3.2 million, about 20 percent more of Ringing’s cost than they were told to anticipate. “It’d be a substantial amount to deal with,” Nester warned.

Worse yet, he added, there are indications the moratorium could be lengthened beyond a year, and perhaps indefinitely. Such a move probably would not affect Pottsgrove during the next few years. However, members of the Pottstown school board learned to their dismay – also Tuesday – that the moratorium will force them to re-think plans to close one of Pottstown’s five elementary schools and add classrooms on to others.

The Education Department officially takes the position that it has made no commitment for PlanCon payments until its money is actually delivered, according to Nester. He doesn’t think that argument can stand, and hints other districts with more owed than Pottsgrove probably would challenge such a contention in court, if it persists.

“We just have to wait and see how it shakes out,” he said after the meeting.

Nester also confirmed for the board earlier reports that Pottsgrove otherwise made out “as positively as we could have hoped” in preliminary estimates of state budget funding for the 2012-2013 school year. Under Corbett’s plan to consolidate four different, formula-based revenue streams into a single block grant, Pottsgrove could receive between $70,000 and $100,000 more in education and other subsidies than initially expected, Nester said.

Again, however, he warned all was not what it seemed. In future years, the grant structure abandons automatic funding increases tied to inflation or other rising costs. So if the district pays more for busing of either public or private students because fuel prices spike higher, or if it employs more teachers, it won’t necessarily win the extra state financial support it depended on in the past.

Related (to Ringing Rocks Elementary School renovations):

Related (to the Pottsgrove Board of School Directors’ Feb. 14 meeting):

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