State College, PA - Centre County - Central Pennsylvania - Home of Penn State University

Board VP: State College Furlough, School-Closure Options May Be Discussed

on March 15, 2011 10:34 AM

Jim Pawelczyk was blunt Monday night.

Upcoming budget talks for the State College Area School District are likely to include discussions about possible "fees, reduced educational offerings, increased class sizes, furloughs (and) school closings," he said at the regular school-board meeting.

"In short, we can't afford the way that we currently deliver public education," Pawelczyk, the board vice president, said. " ... We need to keep open minds while putting everything on the table.

"Where we must stand fast, however, is to assure that the superintendent has sufficient resources to maintain and support a thorough and efficient system of public education," Pawelczyk went on.

The school-board meeting was the first since Gov. Tom Corbett released his proposed state budget last week. If approved, it would mean a reduction of about $2.6 million in annual state support for the State College public schools, according to district documents.

District leaders had anticipated a decline of $700,000.

Pawelczyk said the district is now confronting a likely revenue shortfall of $5 million to $7 million for the 2011-2012 budget, which had tentatively included $118 million in projected expenses. (State law limits how much the board may raise taxes without turning to a ballot referendum. The tax-increase limit this year is likely to be several percentage points.)

Administrators had been expected to begin presenting cost-cutting options to the board on Monday. But in light of the governor's budget proposal, district leaders said, those options are seeing continued discussion internally before they go before the board. An extended budget discussion is expected in a couple weeks; the board is expected to finalize its 2011-2012 budget by May.

"We won't be able to provide everything for everyone," Pawelczyk said. "But where we choose to invest, it must be high-quality, cost-effective and prepare this community's children for success in the modern world."

The district already sliced more than $3 million from expenses for the current school year -- savings achieved largely through attrition. Cuts this time appear likely to exact a bigger toll on district programs and personnel. 

District officials and three collective bargaining units, including the teachers' union, are working this year to establish new contracts as old ones expire. Details of those discussions have not been disclosed.

"We have a number of challenges ahead of us," said Jeffrey Ammerman, the district business adminstrator. " .. We're having to ramp up everything" the district had been doing already to identify cost savings.

In his two decades working in school finance, Ammerman said, Corbett's proposed budget represents the single largest suggested cut to state general-education spending.

"Every district across the state is wrestling with what this means," Ammerman said. "We're no exception."

Superintendent Michael Hardy said a cost-control is task force working to do "what's in the best interests of students, keeping the students central in our new fiscal reality."

In other business Monday night:

  • Board members voted 7-0 to pass a resolution that opposes state Senate Bill No. 1. (Board President Ann McGlaughlin and member Dorothea Stahl were not present for the vote.) The bill would expand the availability of state-funded vouchers, allowing students who otherwise might attend public schools to receive state money and enroll in private institutions. The effort, if approved, would cost an estimated $50 million its first year, $150 million in its second year and more in succeeding years, board members said. They said they oppose the bill for several reasons. Those include that it appears to violate the state constitution; that no research confirms non-public schools, as a group, provide better education than public schools do; that private schools lack relative transparency; and that the bill would effectively siphon support from already-suffering public schools, they said.
  • Hardy provided an update on the district's elementary-redistricting plans. Community meetings on the subject have concluded, though the district is continuing to collect input via its website, he said. A district committee is using the feedback as it revises the original redistricting proposal, introduced in February. A revised concept is expected to go before the board April 11, with adoption slated for May 9. (Some redistricting details are provided low in this report, too.)
  • The district's search for a new superintendent is expected to advance to first-round interviews in the next few weeks, Pawelczyk said. Applications will be thoroughly reviewed very shortly, he said. The district is planning to have a new superintendent seated in time for the 2011-2012 school year. Hardy has been serving in an interim role since the resignation of former Superintendent Richard Mextorf, who has been charged with DUI in Clinton County.

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