Nearly $500K in cuts in local school funding, more state police in proposed state budget
4:20 p.m. Updated: adds figures for local education funding cuts
By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com
It’s lean and mean, but it remains unclear at first blush exactly what the local impact will be of Gov. Tom Corbett’s first proposed state budget — a budget that calls for some $2.6 billion in spending cuts.
Although the final hit to local schools and municipal governments can’t be determined until the legislature passes judgment on Corbett’s proposals, they may have an immediate influence on the ongoing talks between the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District and its teachers union. Corbett is calling on all school districts to reopen all of its collective bargaining agreements and ask for school employees to accept a wage freeze — something the governor said would save school districts about $400 million statewide.
“Amid cuts and recession we have found a way to keep Basic Education funding at the same level it held before the federal stimulus,” Corbett told a joint session of the General Assembly, Tuesday. “Washington might be retreating. We’re not. At the same time, I am here to say that education cannot be the only industry exempt from recession. Our public schools do important work and part of that work must include setting an example. I’m calling on the employees of our public schools-administrators, teachers, support workers, everyone-to hold the line. If it means a pay freeze, trust me, you’ll have plenty of company out there to keep you warm.”
The call for a wage freeze could put added stress on the ongoing talks between the district and teachers which sources close to the negotiation suggest still haven’t seen much in the way of progress. The Republican governor is also calling for changes in state laws that would allow school districts to layoff teachers for purely economic reasons, rather than only in the case of cutting programs as is the law right now.
The roughly 10% cut in basic education funds may have some impact on the Unionville district — which is already looking to keeps its local tax hike under the Act 1 numbers — with a proposed cut in state funding of $478,327. And while those numbers may cause some headaches in Unionville, the impact will likely be lesser than in neighboring districts such as Kennett ($1.49 million), Avon Grove ($3.3 million), Oxford ($2.95 million) and Octorara ($1.39 million) that are more dependent on state funding. Corbett is proposing $550 million in cuts to basic education funding, with small cuts to programs for full-day kindergarten and class-size reductions in kindergarten to third grade.
Not surprisingly, there wasn’t universal praise for the governor’s choices for cuts. State Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-19, who represents Newlin and West Marlborough in the Unionville area) expressed dismay at the proposed education cuts.
“Gov. Corbett’s proposal for basic education will be disastrous for our Commonwealth’s public schools,” Dinniman said. “Full-day kindergarten classes, reduced class sizes and after school tutoring programs are at risk of elimination.”
“The difficulty is that while the governor can wave the flag and say, ‘We’re not raising taxes,’ he has written a script that will mean significant local property tax increases and much heavier burden on local taxpayers, and that is indeed troubling,” Dinniman said.
State colleges and universities won’t be spared, either, as Corbett proposed slashing $650 million from state-run and supported schools — which could mean higher tuition or staff cuts.
On the plus side for local residents that depend largely on State Police, Corbett’s budget would restore staffing to 2008-09 levels, after a hiring freeze caused manpower shortages in local state police barracks in Media, Avondale and Embreeville. Local towns and schools districts could also see some modest cost savings if a proposal to change legal advertising requirements to allow placing of ads in lower-cost Internet publications rather than requiring more expensive print ads.
Corbett is also calling for an end to the so-called “Walking Around Money” or WAM, local community grant projects that legislators could push through for local projects. Corbett says he intends to reorganize such grant programs to streamline them and make them more effective and less expensive.
“We’re looking for results,” Corbett told the legislators. “We’re looking for new jobs, not votes.”
Corbett also outlined plans to form a panel to look at privatizing the state liquor stores as well as other areas of state government. The proposals would also cut about 1,500 state jobs.