Supers: Budget is good and bad
Local superintendents are happy to see education funding increases in Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed 2013-2014 budget, but they say it's a case of good news-bad news.
"It's great to see a funding increase, don't get me wrong," Shamokin Area Superintendent James Zack said Wednesday. "However, it's nowhere near what we've received in the past."
According to figures released on the Pennsylvania Department of Education's website, each of the four area public school districts - Southern Columbia, Mount Carmel Area, Line Mountain and Shamokin Area - will receive increases to their basic education subsidies.
Special education and accountability block grants funding will remain the same as last year.
The increases are part of the $11.7 billion Corbett has earmarked for education in the spending plan, which must be approved in time for the new fiscal year that starts July 1.
The increases range from $79,296 for Southern Columbia to $193,280 for Shamokin Area.
"After two years of leveling off, it's nice to see an increase," said Line Mountain Superintendent Dave Campbell.
Campbell said while the governor's budget calls for an increase in funding, there are more hands in the till than previous years.
"There's not only the 501 public school districts, but private cyber and charter schools as well," Campbell said "I have a problem with millionaires that start a school for profit getting richer."
Southern Columbia Superintendent Paul Caputo said the $79,296 increase represents less than one percent of his $17 million budget for this school year, and expense increases will wipe it out.
"Health care costs will increase 9 percent next year while - unless the governor's pension reform action takes place - we will see a 16 percent increase in our contribution to the Pennsylvania State Employees Retirement System," Caputo said.
Sen. John Gordner, R-27, Berwick, said Tuesday this year's budget debate starts off at a better place with the Accountability Block Grant (ABG) funding, basic education increase and level funding for higher education proposed by Corbett.
The governor proposes level funding at $100 million for the ABG program, which school districts have relied upon for the past decade to help pay for full-day kindergarten and expanded early learning programs.
"Again, it's great to have the funding, but its about half of what we used to get," Zack said.
Last year, federal stimulus money ran out and was not replaced in the state education funding budget, creating a debate as to whether Corbett had cut education funding or simply allowed it to return to pre-stimulus levels.
In his address Tuesday, Corbett discussed privatization of the state-run liquor sales and how eliminating state stores could provide $1 billion for education.
Campbell took note.
"What I find ironic is that seven or eight years ago, Gov. Ed Rendell proposed funding the accountability block grant with gambling money, and many folks were aghast about such an idea," he said. "Now, we have a proposal to do the same thing through liquor money, which is a bigger vice, in my opinion."
Bernard Stellar, superintendent for Mount Carmel Area, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
With the governor's numbers on the table, administrators can begin the process of creating their budgets.
"We are looking at a budget that has a $500,000 deficit this year, but will be $2.8 million next year and higher the year after that," Zack said. "We are still near the fiscal cliff."
"The state funding gives us a baseline to operate with," Caputo said. "We will continue to contain our costs as best we can to provide for our students."
"The good news we can take from this is that education funding is moving forward for the first time in three years," Campbell said.