York County could lose nearly 4K teachers under Mastriano's plan: PSEA

Meredith Willse
York Dispatch

Schools could lose thousands of educators if a plan put forward by state senator and GOP gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano is put into action, according to the labor union that represents 187,000 teachers and support staff statewide.

In an interview earlier this year, Mastriano laid out a plan to cut per-student education funding from $19,000 to $9,000. Mastriano told Altoona-based radio station WRTA that he wants to eliminate property taxes and give the education funding money to the students rather than the school systems.

Based on Mastriano's public statements, the Pennsylvania State Education Association estimated that his plan would result in roughly 120,000 educators being put out of work statewide due to a $13 billion budget cut. York County school districts would lose an estimated 3,862 educators, according to the PSEA.

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“In all, we are looking at literally half the teachers we have now, half the counselors, half the school nurses, half the cafeteria workers, office workers,” said Chris Lilienthal, a PSEA spokesman. “It’s hard to even fathom what our schools would look like in that type of situation.”

Lilienthal said the PSEA asked Mastriano for more information, which Mastriano did not provide. Instead, the PSEA ran a simple calculation of what the per-student spending cut would mean for education funding — and thus school staffing. By definition, that meant making assumptions about what schools would be forced to cut locally and statewide.

Messages left with Mastriano's campaign by The York Dispatch were not returned. Mastriano himself could not be reached for comment.

During the WRTA interview, Mastriano raised concerns about the tax burden senior citizens face, in part, to fund the schools and the fear of what he called indoctrination in the schools.

"This is not sustainable," he said. "We're not getting our bang for the buck."

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, the Republican candidate for Governor of Pennsylvania, gestures to the cheering crowd during his primary night election party in Chambersburg, Pa., Tuesday, May 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Mastriano suggested cutting that spending per student down to $9,000 or $10,000. The student would decide what school system they want to attend, such as public, private or homeschooling, and the money would follow the student. Mastriano said he believes that would drive down the cost of public education.

According to the National Education Association, Pennsylvania's per-student spending on education was nearly $19,000 during the 2020-2021 school year versus a national average of $14,360. The average starting salary for teachers in Pennsylvania was nearly $47,000, according to NEA data. Nationwide, the average was $41,770.

Lilienthal said Mastriano's plan "would be devastating, we think, to public school students and to the communities at large."

According to the PSEA's estimates, South Eastern School District would see a 44% revenue decrease. That would take them from an estimated $55.5 million budget to a $30.9 million budget. They would also likely reduce staff from 369 to 141. 

Eastern York School District would see a 41% budget cut and likely lose 195 staff members. 

Northern York County School District would have the smallest change — a 19% budget decrease resulting in the possible loss of 154 educators. 

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To arrive at those numbers, Lilienthal said, the PSEA research team assumed federal revenue and local non-property taxes would remain the same. Based on that, there would be a $12.75 billion decrease in funding for the public districts, charters and other education agencies. 

The research department used the public data available on the districts' fixed expenses, such as debt or building costs, he said. After removing that amount, the remainder was for personnel. 

“And based on that, we determined there would be a likely 119,000 jobs that could be lost,” Lilienthal said. 

FILE - Doug Mastriano, speaks at an event on July 1, 2022, at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. Pennsylvania's Republican governor nominee, Mastriano is appearing Tuesday before the Jan. 6 committee investigating the U.S. Capitol insurrection as the panel probes Donald Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. (AP Photo/Marc Levy, File)

The student-to-teacher ratios would double, according to PSEA estimates based on student attendance during the 2020-2021 school year.

Lilienthal said schools could choose to close buildings or eliminate extracurricular and sports programs.

“Even if school districts were to take those types of measures, they still would have no choice but to reduce employment,” he said, adding that there would be no way around staff cuts with the kind of budget cut Mastriano proposed. 

Lilienthal said Mastriano's proposal would have to go through many steps before finally passing the state Legislature. He said the PSEA would not tell anyone how to vote in November's gubernatorial election but that voters need to consider Mastriano’s vision.

PSEA thought the information should be available publicly because parents deserve to know what it would mean for districts, he added. 

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Lilienthal said another issue is the existing teacher shortage statewide. Talk of further cuts could make recruitment — as well as morale for teachers who already report high levels of burnout — even more difficult, he said.

“An attack like this, from Sen. Mastriano, is poorly timed,” Lilienthal said, adding that there is already a struggle to get college students to join the profession. “The last thing we should be talking about is defunding to this level.”

— Reach Meredith Willse at mwillse@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @MeredithWillse.