Local districts winners, losers in state budget

The ink has been dry on Gov. Tom Corbett’s $29 billion dollar state budget for two weeks now, but it has done little to alleviate the stress of some local school superintendents.

Many districts experienced a decrease in state funding from what was in the governor’s proposed budget, among them South Williamsport Area School District. Nonetheless, Superintendent Dr. Mark Stamm says that district will move forward with the funding received.

“It is what it is. We work with the money we receive,” Stamm said. “We lost $135,000 from what he had proposed.”

In order to create a balanced budget for the school district, Stamm said certain vacancies will not be filled.

“We had two vacant full-time positions, so we only filled one. All together, we cut 2.5 professional positions and three paraprofessional positions.”

Mike Pawlik, superintendent of East Lycoming School District, also was concerned about a decrease in funding from what initially was proposed.

“It was quite sizable, in my opinion, in excess of $100,000,” Pawlik said.

For him, the concern is on the district’s financial future, as well as the taxpayers.

“What it really does is force more and more of the burden of funding schools onto property owners in the district. The state is basically forcing school boards to raise taxes to make up for a lack of funding at the state level,” Pawlik said.

But not all districts realized much of a difference between the proposed and final state budget numbers.

Dr. Timothy Bowers, Montoursville Area School District superintendent, said the district experienced little difference from what was proposed and the final allocation.

“It was pretty close. We really didn’t know. You just have to wait until it goes through the process,” Bowers said.

For Bowers, the concern is the level of funding school districts have experienced throughout Corbett’s time in office. The budget held level the amounts allocated for basic education.

When it’s level funding, districts can’t look to the state for any of their rising costs, Bowers said.

“It depends on the economy and the leadership at the time in Harrisburg,” he said. “It depends on if the state is in a positive or a negative position as to what money they can throw at education.”

For Muncy School District, the final allocation was about half of what was expected, but Superintendent Dr. Portia Brandt says the district was prepared.

“We made the proper pathways in our budget before the local school board did, in fact, pass our budget,” Brandt said.

Brandt is not surprised with the decrease from what initially was proposed to what was received, but she did mention the funding of special education as a concern for all districts.

“No surprises. I’m not always thinking special education should be funded better than it is because it is such a costly factor for all districts, but we are thankful for what we got,” Brandt said.

Loyalsock Township School District experienced a decrease from the amount proposed but the district did receive an increase in other state-level funding.

“Our final number was approximately $90,000 less than initially proposed and, from our standpoint, we’ll be able to cover the deficit with the fund balance,” said Gerald McLaughlin, district superintendent. “We planned and budgeted accordingly, but we’re still satisfied we had an increase.”

Jeffrey Richards, business manager for the Williamsport Area School District, reports that his district also received an increase.

“Our district will be receiving more than we budgeted,” Richards said.

The increase will be a welcome addition to the district’s revenue, according to Richards, who says the money will be used to help the district’s financial future.

“Since we are going to receive more than we budgeted, the increase will be used to offset our deficit,” Richards said. “We do depend on the state for funding in our district. Our budget was $82 million, and about half of that was state funding.”

Dr. Dorothy Chappell, superintendent of Jersey Shore Area School District, and Daphne Bowers, superintendent of Montgomery Area School District, were unavailable for comment as of press time.