School boards, at least around here, haven't been the best stewards of taxpayer money over the past 15 or 20 years.
If they wanted something -- a brand new building, a fancy athletic complex or state of the art equipment -- they got it.
It wasn't a matter of whether they could afford it. They could always afford it.
That's why districts had taxpayers.
School boards, it seemed, raised taxes for anything they wanted -- rather than only for what they needed.
That's changed in recent years, spurred in part by state-mandated tax caps. It's not the complete education funding reform that's needed, but it has reined in school boards.
Those limits, combined with Gov. Tom Corbett's austere education funding, means they're now tightening their belts just like everyone else -- even suburban and rural districts are cutting staff and programs.
That's not a bad thing -- to a point.
While school boards are rightly trimming the fat, they also must be mindful of not going so far that students' basic education is affected.
Corbett -- who eliminated nearly $1 billion in basic education funding this fiscal year and intends to keep it basically flat for 2012-13 -- suggests districts dip into their reserve funds to avoid cuts.
In fact, districts already have been dipping into their reserves in recent years. A York Dispatch study showed districts in York County on average had less surplus at the end of the 2010-11 school year than the year.
Corbett and other Republicans in the Legislature seem to feel they can dip deeper to save programs or avoid tax increases.
Most York County districts probably could tap those reserves again this year, according to the Dispatch analysis.
But it would be foolish for them to deplete, or nearly deplete, those accounts.
Reserve funds are set aside both for unforeseen emergencies and for designated uses like building projects and pension costs (pension costs, by the way, set to skyrocket in a few years thanks to a greedy Legislature).
Even the state Department of Education recommends districts set some money aside.
Based on Corbett's approach to education, there's no indication he ever intends to increase funding while in office. He might actually cut it again.
School districts who use reserve funds now could again find themselves raising taxes, cutting programs or both in a few years -- only this time without a financial safety net.