School board mulls over Corbett’s proposed budget

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Almost a week after Gov. Tom Corbett presented his proposed 2011-12 budget that would slash education funding in Pennsylvania, administrators and the school board are still trying to make heads or tails from the proposed budget.

Last Tuesday, Corbett proposed cutting about $550 million, or 10 percent, in funds for instruction in K-12 public schools and eliminating all $260 million in grants that will be given this year to school districts to invest in learning, including pre-kindergarten, full-day kindergarten and class-size reduction in kindergarten through third grade.

Superintendent Dr. Keith Wolfe said last week that the Punxsutawney Area School District is looking at a loss of at least $2 million.

Monday, Business Administrator Susan Robertson said there is no funding for the ABJ Accountability Grant, which funds all kindergarten programs in the district, and the district will have to make a decision: How to make up that money some place else, or looking at different options for kindergarten.

She also said the basic education stimulus funds will not be realized in Corbett's proposed budget.

Last year, $1.7 million in federal stimulus dollars went to the state, which then used the funds to pay for basic education.

This year, however, the federal government will not provide those funds, and the state will not replace them.

After Robertson listed a number of items and programs that may be jeopardized or could be cut, board member Bob Pascuzzo asked, "How do we make up that money?"

"That's a good question," Robertson replied.

She said the district will have a hard time completing its budget until it knows what is happening with the state budget. The deadlines for both are June 30, although last week, state representative and House Speaker Sam Smith said taxpayers should not expect a long, drawn-out budget process as he said was typical during Gov. Ed Rendell's tenure.

Robertson said the district will have to look at other revenues, because there is only so much it can do with real estate taxes, and the Earned Income Tax has decreased.

"It's going to be a challenge this year," she said.

Wolfe said since Corbett's budget speech, administrators have reduced some items that they had planned, but it was still hard to know exactly what to expect.

When asked in which areas the administration was looking to cut, Wolfe said he had asked athletic officials to cut from their budget, and he also looked at some supply suggestions that "would be nice to have, but it's not like it's something they (teachers, staff) can't live without."
Pascuzzo said the only way to make substantial cuts is by cutting programs.

"That's your only option," he said. "We'll be stuck with these tough choices in the near future. You just can't have everything all the time. Our main goal here is reading, writing and arithmetic."

Other options include cutting kindergarten — as other districts are examining — athletics or instituting a pay-to-play option for athletics.
"There are going to be some tough decisions," board President Gary Conrad said. "There'll be some scars there."

Board member Penny Pifer said cuts here and there may save a program for a period of time, and suggested each area of the district scrape off their budgets.

Board member Jack White suggested looking at ways to conserve energy.