With the $45.5 billion state spending plan apparently stalled pending action by the state Senate – which may not occur until the upper chamber’s scheduled return to Harrisburg in September – local school districts must now operate in limbo not knowing for certain what their 2023-24 funding will entail, or when they might see it.
“Our local revenues will carry us as we begin the school year,” said Cornwall-Lebanon School District superintendent Dr. Philip Domencic in an email to LebTown. “Eventually, a protracted lack of a budget will impact CLSD and all districts in the commonwealth.”
Palmyra Area School District superintendent Dr. Bernie Kepler said that, since local tax revenue is received beginning in July/August, the district can function at the onset of the school year. PASD also maintains a fund balance that would allow the school system to function for a brief time.
But in the event the budget isn’t passed until next year, as happened in 2016?
“Clearly, a delay in the state budget that would last into January 2024 would become a significant issue for school systems across the Commonwealth,” Kepler said.
Annville-Cleona School District superintendent Dr. Krista Antonis said that, while it’s not ideal having a delayed budget from the state, the district is in a strong financial position.
“Over the years the district has been planning for the future and currently has about 25% of the district’s budget in reserves,” said Antonis.
Antonis added that during the months of July-December, the lion’s share of local real estate tax revenue is received – 87% – which will allow the district to operate normally until a budget is passed.
Northern Lebanon School District superintendent Gary Messinger said NLSD is in a similar boat.
“Our local revenues are due in the fall so they will be enough to sustain us through this calendar year,” said Messinger. “If an impasse continues into 2024, we will be impacted by the lack of state funding and potentially have to use funds earmarked for capital improvements until the budget is resolved.”
Eastern Lebanon County School District superintendent Julia Vicente said that the held-up state funding makes up 28% of ELCO’s budget, while real estate taxes make up more than half, with most of that revenue coming by August due to the 2% discount offered for timely payment. Vicente said that ELCO also has a healthy fund balance from years of prudent financial management.
“Due to these factors, a budget impasse through December will not impact the district’s education programs and offerings due to local revenues and the fund balance available,” said Vicente. “A longer impasse that goes past December may financially impact the District.”
If the current budget plan is passed, all Lebanon County districts would see a funding increase greater than the most recent Consumer Price Index inflation rate – 3.0% in June – and some would see a percentage increase greater than the 9.1% inflation peak seen last summer.
Lebanon School District (4,953 students in 2022-23) would see the greatest increase, 14.3%, with $46.6 million total funding.
Palmyra Area School District (3,531 students in 2022-23) would see an appropriation of $9.2 million, or a 12.1% increase from 2022-23 funding.
Cornwall-Lebanon School District (5,061 students in 2022-23) would get $13.9 million in funding, or a 9.1% increase.
Annville-Cleona School District (1,455 students in 2022-23), Eastern Lebanon County School District (2,399 students in 2022-23), and Northern Lebanon School District (2,130 students in 2022-23) would all see a sub-8% increase:
- Annville-Cleona: $5.7 million, or 7.8% increase
- Eastern Lebanon County School District: $6.2 million, or 5.6% increase
- Northern Lebanon School District: $9.4 million, or 7.9% increase
Kepler said that the potential increase in the state subsidy would greatly benefit the students at Palmyra.
“The school district has made strides with employee groups in order to maintain a viable employee base and additional funds would be critical as we have had to employ additional people to provide services for increasing student needs,” said Kepler. “Recently, we have had to add staffing in these key areas: school nursing, school psychologist, English as a Second Language teachers, special education teachers, and assistant principal position.”
Kepler said that any funding that helps offset the costs associated with meeting students’ needs would be beneficial to the district.
Messinger said that any increase in state funding will allow the district to continue growing student programs and upgrading its facilities.
“Ultimately, sustained state funding would allow us to alleviate some of the annual budget burden from our local taxpayers,” said Messinger.
Lebanon School District superintendent Dr. Arthur Abrom said that LSD relies heavily on federal and state funds.
“Therefore, any reduction of funding could significantly impact the district in a negative way, just as any potential increase would significantly help the district,” said Abrom. “Currently we are in a fairly strong cash flow position, though we are in the middle of building a new junior high school, which means a portion of any additional funds received enables us to ensure completion of the building project on time.”
For ACSD, the additional funds would equate to 1.25% of the overall budget, said Antonis, and would help offset inflated supply costs, special education costs, pension, and cyber tuition payments. The district did not budget on any increase, and instead had budgeted for what was received last year from the state.
“The district is also beginning renovations so any additional funds could help offset future borrowing costs,” said Antonis.
School funding is determined in part through a fair funding formula that includes factors like enrollment, students learning English or experiencing poverty, and median household income.
Domencic noted that there are long-term issues regarding school funding and the state budget process that have been unresolved for decades.
Vicente said that the potential increase would be significant for ELCO and support the district’s initatives to meet the diverse learning needs of its students.
“For years, the state has been short on funding school districts appropriately, and any proposed increase would go a long way to start closing the decades-long gap in funding of school districts in Pennsylvania,” said Vicente.
Gov. Josh Shapiro had originally supported a private school voucher initiative, which Republicans said would help address the ruling, but later withdrew his support and said that he would line-item veto the proposal.
- Commonwealth Court ruling says public school funding in PA is ‘unconstitutional’
- After Shapiro reverses position on school vouchers, Pa. House passes a budget and Senate cries foul
“We hope this current budget process will result in meaningful changes that are beneficial for our students, our dedicated personnel, and our community that provides much support for our school district,” said Domencic.
Forecasting school funding levels has been further complicated by a Commonwealth Court ruling earlier this year that said that the state’s public schools funding “falls woefully short and violates students’ constitutional rights.”
- Lebanon schools are underfunded, state says; governor allocates extra funds
- The $1 billion plan to close the gap between growing and shrinking Pa. school districts
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