For the third consecutive year, school districts across the state are expected to reduce staff and course offerings, cut extra-curricular activities, tutoring and summer school programs, increase class size and dip into reserve funds to balance their budgets, according to a survey.
Since 2011, when school districts across the state saw education funding reduced by nearly $1 billion, the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators and the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials have surveyed districts about proposed and actual cuts they were forced to make because of tight finances. The funding cut was caused by the loss of federal stimulus money, which had been used in previous years to balance the education budget. The administration of Gov. Tom Corbett chose not to replace the federal money with state funds.
In addition to funding cuts, school districts have seen revenues drop as the result of a poor economy that has seen a decrease in real estate transfer taxes and earned income taxes and a reduction in investment earnings.
Over the past two years, Pennsylvania school districts have reduced teacher and support staff by 20,000 positions, a trend expected to continue. Of the 187 districts that responded to the survey, 64 percent said they planned to leave positions vacant and 20 percent indicated they plan furloughs for 2013-14.
According to other projections in the survey, 47 percent of districts expect to increase class sizes for 2013-14, 37 percent plan to reduce elective courses in such subjects as foreign languages, arts, music, physical education and in some cases, math, science, English and social studies. Twenty-three percent expect to delay the purchase of textbooks, 22 percent anticipate reducing or eliminating tutoring programs and 13 percent plan to eliminate summer school.
"The important thing to remember about these cuts is that they are cumulative and built on cuts made in the past two years," said Jim Buckheit, PASA executive director, after releasing the report on the survey results Tuesday.
The survey was taken in April and May and questioned districts based on plans for their preliminary budgets. The groups will conduct another survey on actual cuts after final budgets are passed June 30.
Since 2011, basic education funding from the state has remained relatively stable with a modest -- about 1 percent -- increase proposed for 2013-14.
However, Tim Eller, spokesman for the state Department of Education, said total funding to education, including basic education, special education funding, transportation, school employees retirement, school employees Social Security, Pennsylvania Accountability Grants, construction reimbursement and food services, has increased by $1.25 billion since the governor has taken office.
The school report focuses on spiraling pension costs as a huge pressure on school district budgets, with costs for 2013-14 projected to double what they were in 2011-12 and anticipated to escalate until 2020, when they will be more than 30 percent of payroll.
The report indicated that districts continue to use money from their reserve funds to balance budgets, with seven in 10 saying they plan to do so this year, a practice that will eventually drain some district's reserve funds.
Mary Niederberger: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1590.