Survey paints bleak picture of Pa. funding

    A survey of traditional Pennsylvania school districts paints a grim picture for the coming academic year, with most respondents bracing for higher costs and fewer resources.

    Just over half of the state’s school districts responded to the study conducted by the Pennsylvania  Association of School Administrators and the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials. The survey, conducted annually since 2010, did not include responses from public charter or cyber charter schools.

    About two-third of the respondents said they’ve increased class size or expect to do so in the coming school year. Nearly 90 percent said they’ve reduced staff or plan to do so through furloughs or not filling vacant positions, and 77 percent said they expect to raise property taxes in the coming year.

    Ninety percent of responding districts reported making some change to transportation, with most of them cancelling or combining bus routes.

    “What this means is that with fewer buses and fewer stops, kids are riding the bus longer,” said Jeff Ammerman of PASBO.

    The majority of respondents reported seeing rising mandated costs in areas such as health care, special education, and payments to charter schools.

    And pension costs continue their inexorable rise. More than three-fourths of respondents said they saw at least a 25 percent hike in their required pension contribution last year.

    A number of state-level decisions that will affect schools’ budgets haven’t been settled — including whether district payments to charter schools will go down due to pending legislation, or whether state funding for school districts will go up.

    “So they’ve been trying to be very careful in being able to meet their budgets ahead of knowing what they’ll actually going to have to deal with,” said Jim Buckheit, PASA’s director.

    The survey did not ask school districts whether they keep funds in reserve. But Buckheit said any savings will likely be wiped out by rising costs, especially for pensions.

    “It’s huge increases that they’re going to be facing,” said Buckheit. “And regardless of how much they can raise local taxes at the state index, it’s insufficient to cover that.”

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