HARRISBURG -- The state's Senate education chairs unveiled a package of bills today that they say would reduce mandates on school districts and give them flexibility in dealing with the governor's proposed budget cuts.
The 18 measures, among other provisions, would change bidding requirements for construction projects, remove a special certification required for hiring school nurses, halt a requirement for professional development for two years, and tie teacher furlough decisions to performance instead of seniority.
Similar changes to the 2,000-page school code have been suggested in the past. But Senate Education Committee Chairman Jeffrey Piccola, R-Dauphin, said the current state budget deficit should be treated as "an opportunity to unshackle our public schools" and help them cut costs.
"If we fail to relieve school districts of some of the cost drivers that they face, we will see local property taxes increase," Mr. Piccola said during a press conference on the package of legislation. "This is unacceptable. Taxpayers have simply had enough, and are demanding all levels of government to do more with less."
Gov. Tom Corbett's budget would slash $550 million from the basic education subsidy for public schools, and more than $1 billion total when elimination of grants for all-day kindergarten and charter school reimbursements are factored in.
Sen. Andy Dinniman, D-Chester and the education panel's ranking Democrat, said he supports the intent of many of the measures but noted that some are contradictory and will require further discussion.
Enacting the changes could help districts save 1 to 2 percent of the proposed cuts, Mr. Dinniman said. He added that more will need to be done to help districts meet the necessary level of cost reduction.
Mr. Piccola said some of the proposals are expected to bring opposition. Interest in changing a requirement that schools hire specially certified nurses, instead of registered nurses, already has raised concerns from a group representing certified nurses, he said. One of the measures would allow districts to hire either the school certified nurses or registered nurses, which he said could help smaller districts.
The Pennsylvania School Boards Association and Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials both indicated support for many of the proposals. A memo from the school boards group called the measures "first steps" toward relieving mandates "that divert valuable dollars from educational programs."
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