18,800 positions eliminated over 2 years as a result of tight funding

By Eleanor Chute

Published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


In his 17 years as executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials, Jay Himes can't recall a time of bigger cuts in education than last year and the current year.

"I can't think of anything even close," he said, commenting on a survey released Monday on the impact.

The electronic survey, done by PASBO and the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators in August, was answered by 264 of the state's 500 school districts.

More than $900 million in public school funding was reduced in 2011-12, largely as a result of the end of the federal economic stimulus.

That money was not restored in the 2012-13 state budget.

Extrapolating the results to cover the whole state, the survey estimates the second year of tight funding resulted in nearly 4,200 positions eliminated or left vacant in 2012-13, following the loss of 14,590 positions in 2011-12, for a total of 18,790.

"It's important to note the cumulative impact of these reductions," said Jim Buckheit, executive director of PASA.

About 30 percent furloughed employees this school year, with nearly half of the furloughs affecting teachers.

Nearly a quarter had a wage freeze in place this year, and 52 percent did so last year.

Other findings include:

• Eight school districts reduced or eliminated pre-kindergarten, and six reduced or eliminated full-day kindergarten in 2012-13.

• 43 percent reduced elective course offerings.

• 40 percent delayed buying textbooks.

• 32 percent reduced or eliminated programs providing tutoring or extra help.

• 72 percent dipped into reserves to balance the 2012-13 budget. Combined with the prior year's survey, 52 percent responding to both used the reserves both years.

• 43 percent reduced or eliminated student field trips, and 30 percent reduced or eliminated extracurricular activities.

• 20 percent delayed building or renovating schools.

• 81 percent of those responding were able to keep a tax increase within the Act 1 limit or to hold taxes steady.

Mr. Himes and Mr. Buckheit believe the funding problems are affecting student achievement, including the lower results of the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests given in the spring.

"We're concerned that the continued financial decline and the resulting program and personnel reductions has that impact on student achievement and PSSAs in particular," Mr. Himes said.

More details are available at www.pasbo.org or www.pasa-net.org.

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