State budget had big impact in classrooms

Survey asked how schools coped

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Seventy percent of Pennsylvania school districts that responded to a recent survey on the effects of state education budget cuts reported they increased class size, 44 percent reduced electives and 35 percent decreased tutoring programs.

In addition, the survey, conducted in August by the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials and Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, found that the average school district used more than a half-million dollars from its reserve fund to balance the 2011-12 budget and that many districts now have no reserve fund.

Of the state's 500 school districts, 59 percent, or 294 districts, responded to the survey given to determine the effects of the state reduction of $930 million in education funds and the loss of federal stimulus money.

"These are the fears. These are the cuts and the challenges in black and white," said Mike Crossey, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, which issued a news release about the survey Thursday.

Most of the electives reduced were for courses not required for graduation, including foreign languages, music and physical education. However, cuts were also reported in core areas such as sections of math, English, sciences and social sciences.

Almost 20 percent of districts reported eliminating summer school programs that had allowed students to make up credits to graduate on time.

Four districts reported that they eliminated full-day kindergarten, and nine reduced their full-day kindergarten programs. Seven districts reported eliminating pre-kindergarten programs, and 11 reported reducing them.

Mr. Crossey said he is seeing the effects on the classroom firsthand. "I was in northeastern Pennsylvania and saw a school district using paraprofessionals to run its libraries. I was in Beaver County Wednesday and teachers were telling me class sizes went up almost 50 percent. More kids in class means less individualization," Mr. Crossey said.

The survey also showed that districts are delaying purchases, with 41 percent reporting they delayed the purchase of new textbooks and 58 percent reporting delays in the purchase of technology.

As for extracurricular activities, the survey showed that one-third of reporting districts said they reduced or eliminated some activities or sports, 31 percent either established or increased participation fees for sports and activities, and 26 percent reported increasing fees they charge to community groups to use school facilities.

In addition, 57 percent of the district reported cutting student field trips.

School employees have suffered as well, with the responding districts reporting that 5,106 jobs were eliminated, resulting in layoffs, and another 3,259 positions were left unfilled. Personnel costs account for about two-thirds of a district's expenditures. Mr. Crossey said his union lost some 5,000 members this year.

To raise revenues, 30 percent of the reporting districts increased property taxes within their Act I index, while 28 percent raised taxes above their index. More than seven in 10 of responding districts said they used reserve funds to balance their 2011-12 budget.

Mr. Crossey said the PSEA plans to work with the school business officials association, the school administrators association, other organizations and the governor to restore funding to education.

"The only way this is going to work for our children is if we all act like adults and do what's right," Mr. Crossey said.

Mary Niederberger: ; 412-861-1512.


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