York City School District struggles with $8 million budget gap

TEMP ORARY February 23, 2012 0

Early this month, York City School District announced that, due to an $8 million budget gap, it may not be able to pay its teachers come April. District business consultant James Duff stated that paying the teachers has been given the highest priority amongst the various dues that need to be paid. School officials reported that the 2011-12 budget gap has three main causes: payment due to charter schools, unemployment compensation for furloughed employees and a preexisting budget deficit.

Charter school payments make up the largest part of the $8 million budget gap. According to the Pa. Department of Education, school districts must pay charter schools money equal to what the cost per pupil would be if the child were attending a regular school. The York Daily Record reports that York City owes about $5.2 million to various charter schools. If the district defaults on the payments, it would force the charter schools to appeal to the Secretary of Education to divert subsidies from the district to the charter school.

The second part of the gap is $2 million owed in unemployment compensation for over 100 teachers and other school employees. Superintendent Deborah Wortham reported that only $225,000 was originally budgeted for compensation. Due to the state of the economy over the past few years, York City has had to lay off teachers to conserve money.

According to the York Daily Record, Governor Tom Corbett’s $860 million cut to public school aid made the problem worse. Since the cuts were done as a percentage, they took more money away from poorer schools, like those in York City, that depend on state funding. The withdrawal, totaling about 10 percent of its funds, has forced York City to consolidate classes and have teachers cover for those who were laid off.

The remaining $1 million was already written into the 2011-12 budget when it was drawn up.

To help alleviate the situation, the district has attempted to negotiate with the teacher’s union to propose a change in its contract. If accepted, the proposal would end the half days that the district has every other Wednesday one hour earlier. It would also change one full day and some year-end days to half days.

According to union President Kim Schwartz, these changes “amounted to a 3.89 percent cut in time and pay, or a little more than three days worth of instructional time.” The proposal was estimated to save $1.2 million, which would have been put toward the deficit. However, the union voted to not reopen its contract, citing loss of instructional time with students.

Currently, the district is also waiting on money from the state for payment on a bond debt. According to Duff through the York Daily Record, for York City to get the $1 million reimbursement, they must simply process the paperwork.

Additionally, the district’s property tax revenue was about $500,000 more than what they were expecting, which will help alleviate the debt somewhat. They have also put a freeze on excess spending, which is estimated to save about $2 million.

While the school board has approved cutting some custodial and secretarial positions, it seems unlikely that any teachers will be let go. Firing teachers for economic reasons goes against state law, and the district does not have the money to replace them.

Instead, they would have to cut programs to save more money. Laying off more teachers would also have a negative effect on the students. Duff said, “At this point we don’t obviously want to do anything detrimental to the education of students.”

For now, York City is focusing on making sure that they take care of their current debts. If the district starts the 2012-13 school year with payments left from the last year, it could mean trouble for the students.

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