Saturday, August 29, 2015

PA: Districts Now Short $1.18 Billion

Last Thursday, schools started to feel the impact of our elected legislators' perennial inability to get their job done.

Thursday was the day that $1.18 billion-with-a-b in subsidy payments were supposed to go out to school districts. But they can't. Because Pennsylvania still doesn't have a budget. The Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officers surveyed 171 districts and learned that 83% of those will be dipping into their reserve funds. 60% may delay vendor payments, 53% may delay maintenance work, and 29% may put off filling positions. Other districts are looking at the necessity of borrowing money, which means that for some districts, Harrisburg's failure will translate into real dollar-amount costs for local taxpayers.

Of course, the most notable impact is being felt in Chester Uplands School District, where the lack of a payment Thursday meant that the district could not meet their payroll. District teachers and staff voted to work without pay as long as "individually possible."

Does Pennsylvania do this a lot? Well, "Pennsylvania Budget Impasses" has its own Wikipedia page. In the last decade, we've been stuck in this place five times (2007, 2008, 2009, 2014, and 2015). Back in 2003, the fight dragged on until December.

The process is always grueling and tense, because those of us who are mere citizens in the commonwealth never know what the heck is going on (unless we want to believe the various battling press releases that emerge from the back rooms of Harrisburg).  We know the basic set-up this time; Tom Wolf wanted to write a budget as if he had won an overwhelming victory that signaled voters' utter repudiation of the Tom Corbett budgetary approach, and Pennsylvania GOP legislators would like to budget as if Tom Corbett were still governor. According to a recent poll, 54% of Pennsylvanians blame the legislators for the impasse, and 29% blame Wolf.

Meanwhile, 100% of public schools are facing effects of the government's halt. And more subsidy payments are due to schools in September, October, November and December.

Our legislators have the second-highest pay in the country, and Pennsylvania has the second-largest legislature in the country, which means we have the most expensive legislature in America-- and that's before you figure in how much this budgetary blockade is costing us. Safe to say that we are not getting very good bang for our buck. Folks have many suggestions. Dock the legislatures pay. Shut down the capital cafeteria and get Harrisburg restaurants to refuse to serve our elected representatives until they get their damned job done. Cut their pay $5K for every day they're late with the budget.

Pennsylvania's education funding has huge problems. This is not helping. We can only hope that Harrisburg gets its act together before it has to miss its next education payment.In the meantime, if you're a Pennsylvanian, I suggest you find your elected representative, contact him, and tell him to do his job.

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