State Funding Changes Giving Most Clarion County Schools a Boost
(PICTURED: Clarion Area Superintendent Joe Carrico and Business Manager Jill Spence)
An increase in the Commonwealth’s budget’s direct support for funding school districts’ basic operations in the coming year combined with the Commonwealth’s fair funding formula is leading to some increases for many local school districts.
The new funding formula, which takes into account socioeconomic factors, is being gradually phased-in over a number of years to allow school districts across the state time to adjust their budgets to the change.
Currently, only new funding added since the 2016-17 school year is being distributed through the new formula, as an analysis by the Pennsylvania House Committee on Appropriations found that directing all basic state education funding through the formula would take over a billion dollars from over 300 of the state’s districts and distribute it other districts in the state.
Locally, several area districts are looking at increases as this change continues to take effect.
The estimated general funding for Clarion Area School District is expected to increase about 2.1 percent, giving the district around $36,000.00 more than the previous year.
“We don’t look at this as a windfall, though,” Superintendent Joe Carrico told exploreClarion.com. “We try to be good stewards of our funding, to be disciplined and conservative and look out for rainy days and unexpected things that could crop up.”
According to Clarion Area’s Business Manager, Jill Spence, the new formula is complex but places more weight on a number of factors including special education students in the district and English as a Second Language students, while also taking into account the district’s size and other factors.
“Every year, we’re compared to the other 499 districts in the state, which will also play into the funding,” Spence said.
Six of the seven Clarion County School Districts are looking at an increase in funding with only Clarion-Limestone seeing a decrease.
North Clarion will see a 1.8 percent increase (about $63,000.00); Keystone’s funding is increasing by 1.6 percent (about $111,369.00); Union will receive a 1.5 percent increase (about $83,000.00); Redbank Valley is getting a 1.0 percent increase (about $86,000.00); and Allegheny-Clarion Valley is getting an increase of 0.5 percent (about $30,000.00).
Clarion-Limestone, however, will be seeing a nearly one percent decrease, with general funding for the district estimated to drop 0.9 percent, meaning the district will lose nearly $50,000.00 in state funding. For additional details, read: Clarion-Limestone Says Higher Household Income Is Reason for State Funding Decrease.
In the surrounding area, other districts are seeing increases in funding, as well.
Forest Area School District is getting an extra $260,000.00, a 9.4 percent increase, while Franklin Area School District is expected to see a 1.4 percent increase in general Commonwealth funding giving them an additional $166,000.00 over the previous year.
Superintendent Pamela Dye noted that while the district’s budget for the coming year is already set, the changes in state funding will have an effect on budgeting for the 2020-21 school year.
She also noted that while the increases will be helpful they may only make up for other areas where funding is lacking.
“For 10 years special education funding was level, and we didn’t get any additional funding,” Dye said. “But that didn’t stop the influx of special education students or the need for funding. The money we’re getting will help defray that cost without having to take more out of our fund balance.”
Other Venango County school districts will also see increases in their state funding, with Oil City estimated to receive an additional 1.0 percent (about $142,000.00); Cranberry an additional 0.7 percent (about $49,000.00); Titusville a 0.3 percent increase (about $40,000.00); and Valley Grove a 0.3 percent increase (about $21,000.00).
To the east, schools in Jefferson County are also seeing increases in state funding. Brockway Area School District will receive an increase of 0.6 percent (about $43,000.00); Punxsutawney Area School District will receive an increase of 0.8 percent (about $126,000.00); and Brookville Area School District is looking to receive about 1.3 percent more than the previous year, which would give them an additional $114,000.00.
“The increase was enough this year for Brookville Area School District to be able to have a year without raising taxes,” said Ellen K. Neyman, Business Administrator for the district. “However, the $89,000.00 to raise teacher salaries did not materialize, and final state BEF budget figures were $17,657.00 less than budgeted so we have $106,657.00 less than budgeted state BEF revenue coming to the District and that could push us to use our budgetary reserves this year.”
Neyman also noted that the Transportation Subsidy is flat-funded in the Commonwealth budget again this year, meaning Pennsylvania is likely to run out of funds about March 2020 and any further payments that are due to Brookville will be held until after July 1, 2020.
“This year the state is currently holding on to approximately $270,000.00 that should have been paid to BASD prior to June 30,” Neyman said. “State funding continues to ignore the formula for transportation subsidy increases and eventually this will become a major problem like retirement and PlanCon since the shortfall grows larger each year.”
Neyman noted there are also major concerns with the Commonwealth not passing Charter Reform and Charter Funding Commission bills and how the School Code Omnibus Bill changes special education funding.
“One of the problems with the special education funding formula is that the factors in the formula continue to change throughout the course of the year as they are updated when various underlying reports are submitted,” Neyman said. “This makes it hard to project what to actually budget for district revenue. Another problem is the amount of funds going through the formula do not keep pace with the escalating costs of special education students.”
According to Neyman, the charter issue is a growing problem. While the current funding formula does give some credit for charter students, it “doesn’t give anywhere near enough to cover the amount the schools are being charged.”
Governor Tom Wolf has also expressed concern about cyber charter schools, which he has referred to as “the growing cost of privatization of education in our public schools,” and has stated his intention to continue to fight to increase education funding and for cyber and charter school reform.
According to a recent release from the governor’s office, many school districts are struggling with the problem of increasing amounts of school funding siphoned by private cyber and charter schools, and funding reform could increase transparency so all schools that receive state dollars are accountable to the taxpayers.
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