2009-09-03 / Front Page

Budget Impasse Results In School Payment Delays

Over $600K in subsidies for county school districts withheld
By Chanin Rotz-Mountz STAFF WRITER

Due to the lack of an approved state budget and the ongoing impasse between Republicans and Democrats, subsidy payments for the commonwealth's public school districts were prohibited from being mailed last Thursday.

Pennsylvania's Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak announced on August 26 that two months of missed payments spanning July and August have accrued to nearly $1.3 billion for this new school year. August's scheduled payments were calculated at $876 million for the 500 school districts, which includes a total of $2,064,467 for Fulton County's three public schools.

In a breakdown pertaining to only Fulton County, the Central Fulton School District should have received $855,707. Meanwhile, Forbes Road and Southern Fulton should have been mailed respective subsidy payments tallying $471,684 and $737,076.

The money, according to Zahorchak, typically represents the state's share of funding in various areas, including basic and special education needs, charter school reimbursments and public transportation. The monthly payments also help school administrators determine annual budgets and meet payment schedules with vendors.

"The state budget impasse is really a fight for the future of our students and for our local property taxpayers, who pay the cost when the state fails to invest in education adequately," he stated. The possibility exists that the next subsidy payment scheduled to be mailed on September 24 could be affected by the budget impasse as payment authorization takes two weeks.

In Zahorachak's announcement, released by the Department of Education, it was noted the Republican budget would cut the basic education subsidy by approximately $729 million, utilizing federal stimulus money to fill in the gap over the next two years. In addition, the plan would reportedly fall back on huge property-tax hikes or program cuts when the stimulus money is no longer available.

Other areas eyed for decreased investment by the state through the Senate Republican budget are early childhood education, dual enrollment for high school students taking early college credits through accelerated courses and hands-on science education for elementary children.

In speaking with the "News" on the topic, Southern Fulton School District Superintendent Ralph Scott said that any state budget that mirrors Senate Bill 850 would prove to be "disastrous." "To level, reduce or eliminate funding for existing programs harms our most vulnerable resource - the children," said the superintendent.

"Any use of stimulus monies to fill in gaps in funding will result in a massive shortfall when those funds are exhausted. As a result, the local taxpayers would experience a significant tax increase, despite claims from state legislators that the state did not increase taxes. It's impractical to believe schools in 2011-2012 can be funded at 2005-06 levels," he concluded.

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