Erie School District looks to resolve budget crisis

Category:  News
Wednesday, April 5th, 2017 at 8:08 PM

The Erie School District held the last of its five public town meetings on March 30 at the MLK Community Center. The school district has held these meetings as a way to keep the public updated on the district’s plan to close the gap on their current $10 million budget deficit. They proposed a recovery plan to consolidate and reorganize schools, which is going to be fast tracked for the upcoming school year if approved.

Over the last few years, the district has eliminated over 350 full time positions, cut the central administration in half and eliminated a number of programs in order to balance the budget, according to the district’s chief financial officer Brian Polito.

Polito is set to take over as the district superintendent this July.

He presented a number of different ideas to eliminate the budget deficit.

Proposed cuts/ estimated savings and income generation outlined:

Elimination of all art and music instruction: $2,271,200

Elimination of all sports and extra-curricular activities: $1,639,000

Increase in state taxes to the maximum percent allowed under the law (3.8): $1,500,000

Elimination of full-day kindergarten: $1,103,200

Downsizing assistant principals and teaching staff: $949,500

Elimination of district police force: $797,200

Elimination of all school libraries: $605,100

Reduction of elementary guidance counselors: $389,300

Reduction of charter transportation to state minimum: $350,000

Reduction of district transportation to state minimum: $325,000

Elimination of all technology purchases: $165,000

These prospective cuts were first configured last year, but no action was taken due to Harrisburg providing the district with a $4 million emergency grant.

The downsizing and reconfiguring of schools would cover $6 million of the budget deficit.

The consolidation process would include consolidating the four high schools into two high schools. East and Strong Vincent high schools would become middle schools. High school students would relocate to Central Career & Technical School or Northwest Pennsylvania Collegiate Academy.

According to Erie School District assistant superintendent Bea Habursky, this would not mean layoffs for full time faculty members.

“Teachers go with the kids. We may have a few that will consolidate depending on the certification. If that happens, it’s usually people who have been substitute teaching for us, so it won’t be the senior teachers, it would be the substitutes,” said Habursky in a post-meeting interview with The Spectator.

Habursky continued: “[Consolidation] could add programming that we currently don’t have for our students, adding electives and giving them internships. Some of the programming we’re looking at is going to be better, but we could never previously provide it because we didn’t have the funding.”

Universities in the area have agreed to give students up to nine college credits towards education based off completion of these potential internships.

The problems that the Erie School District faces are similar to issues many state universities, including Edinboro, are facing.

Edinboro University President Dr. H. Fred Walker said, “The issue that ties us together is that enrollments are going down. When enrollment goes down, state funding also goes down because they do it on a per-head basis— we [Edinboro University] have the same thing.”

“People are looking at ‘the money is not being spent right’ or ‘the administration is making bad choices.’ That may be the case, I don’t know, but overall as the students go down then you have these giant buildings, like we have on the campus, with nobody to fill them and big utility bills to pay,” said Walker.

Walker continued: “For example the [sports and recreation] dome on campus costs $500,000 per year to keep it inflated, so there are some really big, expensive things that we do to try and make school more enriching for people—athletics, music and arts, and these are the most expensive.”

“I feel for these people because it dawned on me when I was siting here— that’s the same thing I’ve got on my lap right now.”

The school board will make a final decision on April 19 as to what Erie School Districts recovery plan(s) will go into effect.

The state budget is due on July 1. 

Natalie Wiepert is the managing digital editor for The Spectator. She can be reached at edinboro.spectator@gmail.com.

View Our YouTube Channel
Edinboro TV
 
Find Us on Instagram