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State money a welcome sight for Pa. schools

January 09, 2004|by RICHARD BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Pennsylvania's 501 public school districts, including those in Franklin County, are getting their share of state funding more than six months after the districts adopted their budgets for the current fiscal year.

The money, which was approved at the end of December when the state lawmakers and Gov. Ed Rendell reached a compromise on the new state budget, will keep school districts from dipping into their year-end reserve accounts or borrowing money for operating expenses, school superintendents said.

Rendell signed the budget bill Dec. 23, which freed up the money.

"The bottom line," Waynesboro Schools Superintendent Barry Dallara said Thursday, "is that the $4.8 million state subsidy that we should have gotten in July finally got here at the end of December."

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The Waynesboro School Board borrowed $5 million at 1.8 percent and set it aside in the event the district ran out of money to operate.

Dallara said one of the most disruptive aspects of the delay in funding was trying to figure out the current year's budget, which began July 1. When the board was in the midst of budget deliberations in March and April, members had no idea how much the district would get from the state. "We usually have some idea in February," he said.

According to an annual report prepared by Education Week newspaper, funded by the Pew Charitable Trust, Pennsylvania funds its school districts an average of 39 percent of their total budgets, a percentage that puts the state near the bottom nationally.

According to Education Week, Pennsylvania and Connecticut are tied at 48th.

Maryland is 47th for contributing an average of 39.7 percent toward its school districts while West Virginia is near the top, tied in 9th place with Alaska. It contributes 66.9 percent on average to its school districts.

Things were getting down to the wire when Greencastle-Antrim School Board members arranged for a line of credit with a local bank in the event it ran out of money waiting for the state funds to come through, said William Needy, the district's business manager.

Needy said the district got around $2 million in state aid.

"We were really running out of time," said Tom Stapleford, superintendent of the Tuscarora School District in Mercersburg, Pa. "We were really worried that we'd have to hold (off paying) some bills," he said.

The Tuscarora School District gets $6.2 million in state aid.

Stapleford and other area school officials said revenue from real estate taxes came in steadily through the summer and fall, helping the districts stay afloat.

School officials lamented the interest their districts lost by not being able to invest the state funds had they come in on time. Stapleford estimates the Tuscarora School District lost an estimated $20,000.

The governor, saying the system relies too heavily on local property taxes, wants to change how the state funds its public schools. In April he proposed that the state pay 50 percent of local school funding while at the same time reduce local property taxes.

The Legislature ended up in a battle over the issue that resulted in no changes in either the school funding formula or the property tax system.

The owner of an average-priced home in the Waynesboro Area School District pays about $700 a year in school taxes, according to Delmos Oldham, borough tax collector.

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