As the Scranton School District experiences a budget shortfall and “dire” projections for years ahead, the district won’t be able to count on the state for assistance.
Before the coronavirus pandemic limited gatherings and closed buildings in March, teachers had planned to take buses to Harrisburg to demand equitable funding.
“As soon as things are lifted, we’re going to Harrisburg,” said Rosemary Boland, president of the Scranton Federation of Teachers.
While educators hope to see funding levels rise to those of similar urban districts, local legislators know finding money in the state budget to do that will be difficult.
In May, with revenue levels uncertain, lawmakers passed a stopgap budget that kept funding in most areas flat for five months. Basic education, the district’s largest state revenue source, was funded for a year at 2019-20 levels.
The state had previously given the district one-time payments to help balance the budget or pay bills, but whether that can happen again is unknown.
A proposal by the governor to help provide funding for abating environmental hazards in schools, including asbestos, could have helped the district, but the proposal’s future is uncertain. The latest figures show the state is $4 billion short in meeting Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed budget, Sen. John Blake, D-22, Archbald, said.
The district receives far less per pupil in state funding than other districts with similar demographics. Since the state placed Scranton in recovery last year, school directors pushed for more equitable and adequate state funding.
Budget projections last month showed the district will face a cumulative deficit of $45 million over the next six years if the district gives no raises and doesn’t increase taxes. The board passed a proposed preliminary budget last month that calls for a 16% property tax for 2021. With students learning virtually, the administration has proposed the furlough of 223 employees. The school board recently tabled the decision.
Blake said he and state Reps. Marty Flynn, D-113, and Rep. Kyle Mullins, D-112, will continue to advocate for the district.
“The pressure on the district is enormous,” Blake said. “We need to invest in our school districts and communities.”
Officials also hope for the passage of the federal Heroes Act, which would provide funding to state and local governments and aid school districts.
“Everyone needs help,” Boland said. “The feds need to come through. It’s more important than ever. It’s a terrible time for everyone.”
Board President Katie Gilmartin said she hopes the board can continue to advocate for fair funding but understands the challenges statewide.
“Everyone in every level of government is up against lost revenue,” she said. “The coffers are even more bare.”