School Districts Prominent In PA Budget Scramble

HARRISBURG PA – When Pennsylvania’s legislators return Monday (June 9, 2014) to the state Capitol to deal with what annually is the hottest item on their agenda – passage of the state budget – they’re likely to face several huge challenges to both revenue and expenses, The Pennsylvania Independent online news service predicted.

School Districts Prominent In PA Budget ScrambleThat, in turn, could spell either trouble or relief for the soon-to-be-finalized budgets of the Pottsgrove, Spring-Ford Area, and Pottstown school districts.

“The budget is the only big-ticket item that should be on the table,” Luzerne County state Sen. John Yudichak told Independent reporter Andrew Staub recently.

In an article Monday (June 2), however, Staub wrote the budget is sure to be affected in small or large part by other components working themselves through an array of legislative caucuses and committees.

At the top of that heap, from the school districts’ perspective, is funding for education. Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, up for re-election this year, in February offered what Staub described as a “feel-good” budget address that held out an increase of $387 million more for schools while going another year without raising state taxes.

Problem is, state revenues have since fallen significantly and demands for state spending have ballooned. The General Assembly probably will grapple “with a budget that could be off by $1 billion next year,” Staub reported. The imbalance leaves some of Corbett’s earlier “priorities in doubt,” he added.

Also affecting school finances is the thorny issue of reforming pension plans for state-funded retirements, which cover many of the districts’ education employees. The districts are required to sock away ever-increasing amounts of cash to guard against pension shortfalls, depriving them of money that might otherwise pay for programs, materials, or extracurricular activities.

The state must save pension money itself, also to avoid shortfalls. Corbett has said he wants to defer $170 million in pension payments in the next budget year while pushing for short-term savings paired with long-term reform, Staub writes. It’s unclear, though, how much if any school districts might be helped by that stance.

A Schuylkill County representative introduced a reform plan he claims could save the state $11 billion over the next 30 years, with most savings coming more than 20 years from now. It has already attracted criticism from union leaders and House Democrats.

Staub’s extensive article for The Independent also touched on other upcoming agenda items: liquor store privatization, Medicaid program expansion, Internet gambling, and a “paycheck protection” proposal that would ban the state from deducting union dues, fair-share fees and political money from employees’ paychecks.

Related (to the Pottsgrove schools’ 2014-’15 budget):

Photo from Google Images

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