Educators back Wolf, but skeptical he’ll win over lawmakers

The Associated Press

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania educators are happy to see Gov. Tom Wolf advocating this week for another big boost in aid to public schools in his second budget proposal, but say they are skeptical he will secure a significant victory from the state Legislature since he’s yet to get what he wanted in his first attempt.

Gov. Tom Wolf

Superintendents and other school officials say they are hardened to the reality after watching the first-term Democratic governor and the Republican-controlled Legislature come to a standstill over a tax increase to boost school funding for the current year.

A partial veto by Wolf in December left billions in school funding in limbo, and the stalemate has inspired no confidence in educators that Republican lawmakers will come close to granting the $565 million in new school aid the governor proposed Tuesday for the two years. The added funding also would make a tax increase necessary.

“In the past, I would look forward to the governor’s budget proposal because it gave you an idea of what’s to come,” Bethlehem Area Superintendent Joseph Roy told the Allentown Morning Call. “This time, I virtually paid no attention to it because I don’t think it helps us in any way doing planning.”

Wolf’s latest proposal was broadly supported by education advocates. But the Pennsylvania School Boards Association said officials in three out of every five school districts it surveyed expect to borrow money this spring if Wolf and lawmakers do not pass a full-year subsidy figure for the current year.

“There’s no sense of urgency,” William Penn School District Superintendent Joseph Bruni told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “No sense of responsibility. They obviously don’t care what happens to students in this state, or taxpayers.”

Wayne McCullough, chief financial and operations officer for the Southern York County School District, told the York Daily Record that he appreciates Wolf’s effort to win more aid for schools next year. But school boards are struggling to produce a budget for next year while they await final word on state aid in this year’s budget.

“It’s probably most critical at this point that we get a ‘15-’16 budget completed as soon as possible,” McCullough said.

McKeesport Area School District, outside Pittsburgh, borrowed $5 million last fall to pay its expenses while state aid was held up in the stalemate, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. It repaid the debt when Wolf approved $2.8 billion in aid for school operations and instruction statewide. Wolf is seeking another $3.3 billion — including a $365 million increase over the prior year — while GOP lawmakers were willing to allow about $3.1 billion, a $150 million increase.

The McKeesport board is preparing to take out another $3.6 million line of credit in March, if it does not receive more money from the state.

Wolf’s proposed two-year boost for school operations and instruction amounts to a two-year increase of 10 percent, bringing the total to $6.3 billion.

But “It’s hard to get happy with numbers if the numbers don’t mean anything,” David Seropian, McKeesport Area’s business manager, told the Post-Gazette. “If the numbers come to fruition then we would be pleased.”