Thursday, February 5, 2009

Rendell proposal - Consolidate 501 school districts to 100

Bold proposal.

This plan should be approved quickly and PASD consolidated with a wealthy or financially healthy school district.


Rendell: Boost school funding, consolidate

He backed a 2.8 percent hike in spending and a proposal to cut the number of districts statewide by 80 percent.

By Dan Hardy and Kristen A. Graham

Inquirer Staff Writers

Gov. Rendell yesterday proposed giving more money to schools and asked the legislature to approve a drastic plan that would cut the number of districts statewide by 80 percent.

endell's push for more education funding comes as the state faces an economic downturn that has prompted proposals to cut many state programs.

He also outlined a "tuition relief" program that he said would enable 20,000 more students to attend state and community colleges.

The governor proposed the creation of a 12-member commission to develop a plan to consolidate school districts from 500 to no more than 100 to save taxpayer money. If the legislature does not approve the commission's proposals, the governor said, the Department of Education should be given the power to order the consolidations.

Rendell wants to increase Pennsylvania's public school funding by $265.3 million, to a total of $9.9 billion, a 2.8 percent increase over last year's budget.

Education accounts for 37 percent of Rendell's proposed $26.6 billion state budget - the largest single portion.

"Even in these difficult times, we must not lose sight of the fact that every additional dollar we allocate to public education will benefit our children even as it helps relieve the burden of local property taxes," Rendell said in his budget address.

His priorities got little support from State Sen. Jeffrey Piccola (R., Dauphin), chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

While he favors giving districts more funding, Piccola said he wanted to revisit the formula used to allocate the funds.

Piccola also shot down as "unacceptable" Rendell's college-aid program and said the legislature would not agree to a plan to consolidate districts that was imposed by a commission or the Department of Education.

Rendell's budget proposal would increase basic education funding, the largest portion of the education budget, by $300 million. The Philadelphia School District would get about $79 million more and the 63 school districts in Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery Counties would share $24.8 million more. The minimum increase would be 2 percent.

Michael Masch, the Philadelphia schools' chief business officer, said he was "very pleased that the governor has continued to recognize that now more than ever, we need to invest in education if we're going to get out of the economic crisis that we're in and be prepared to be competitive when it's over."

If the state gets $1 billion to stabilize its budget from the proposed federal stimulus bill, Rendell said, he would put the additional $300 million that he had allocated for basic education into a reserve fund that would be used to supplement state education funding in future years.

State special-education funding would remain flat this year; reimbursements for charter school costs, transportation funding and pre-kindergarten funding would increase; most other programs would be cut.

Rendell also proposed axing the Governor's Schools of Excellence, popular weeklong summer programs for gifted students statewide. They cost Pennsylvania $3.2 million last year.

Also, two state-run schools would be closed - the Scranton State School for the Deaf and the Scotland School, initially opened after the Civil War to educate veterans' children. The Franklin County school - which spends about $45,000 to educate each student, compared with the roughly $11,000 spent on Pennsylvania public school students - draws about 70 percent of its 288 pupils from Philadelphia.

Rendell's budget also would eliminate funding for a state technology initiative, some science and math education programs, and some job-training and ethnic-heritage programs.

Rendell also called for a wholesale reorganization of the state's school districts. "Almost everyone agrees that Pennsylvania has far too many school districts," he told the legislature. "This means there is an ever-increasing pressure to raise local property taxes. . . . There is nothing sacrosanct about the need to maintain 500 separate schools districts across the state - each with its own staggering, and growing, administrative costs."

Timothy Allwein, spokesman for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, said his organization favored giving districts incentives to merge. He said he had not found any studies in other states that indicated forced mergers had resulted in any considerable savings or improvements in education. "The decision to go ahead with consolidation should be a local one," he said.

At the urging of the Rendell administration, the General Assembly enacted an education-funding formula in July that set a basic funding level for all districts. The plan set a goal of ramping up basic education subsidies by $2.6 billion within six years.

Rendell said he wanted to maintain that formula, though this year's hike in basic education funding would fall $118 million short.

Piccola said he planned to take another look at the funding formula and would not commit to using it this year.

Janis Risch, the executive director of Good Schools Pennsylvania, a statewide group that supports more state funding for education, praised Rendell for sticking with the funding plan. "We'll accept a slowing of school-funding reform, but we won't accept abandoning a school-funding formula that makes an adequate education attainable for all," she said.

Rendell's signature education budget proposal this year is an unprecedented request to provide tuition relief for state residents who attend state-system universities and community colleges.

Beginning this fall, the Tuition Relief Act would free up $128 million in grants for freshmen at the 14 state schools and community colleges. To pay for the measure, Rendell wants to legalize video-poker machines at restaurants, private clubs and bars.

The tuition help would benefit families earning up to $100,000 a year. A family could get up to $7,600 annually toward tuition, fees, room and board.

Piccola said he opposed creating a new tuition-payment program and objected to expanding gambling.

Contact staff writer Dan Hardy at 610-627-2649 or

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think it's an idea that should have been done years ago.

Who should PASD merger with? Spring-Ford and Great Vally might make one decent district that would save us all tax dollars.