In Midst of State Budget Crisis, PA Explains How to Close Schools

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The Pennsylvania Department of Education has revealed that it has created a checklist for districts to use if they are forced to close due to a shortage of funds. The memo arrived this week in the wake of nine months of struggling with an incomplete 2015-2016 budget.

All school districts in Pennsylvania depend on financial support from the state, but the deficit has meant that some have had to take out loans. The memo was a response from the Education Department to questions from districts asking what steps would be needed if they were forced to close.

A spokesperson for Gov. Tom Wolf, Jeffrey Sheridan, said this was not to suggest that any district closures were expected. The memo stated that school district closures have never occurred in the state, and therefore, were not covered in the Public School Code, says Tony Rapp of the Philadelphia Tribune.

Some of the items included on the checklist were developing a plan that ensures special education students’ needs are met, outlining a plan for debt payments, and reviewing collective bargaining agreements. The memo also advised that the shutting down process for a district would take roughly 60 days.

The incomplete state budget was agreed upon at the end of December and included funding for about half a year of K-12 funding, but the last installment was sent out on Thursday. If lawmakers and the governor fail to act, the schools will be left without funding for the second half of the academic year.

According to education associations across the state, they are not aware of any school districts that are about to close, but many school districts are facing the fact that they cannot pay their bills if money doesn’t come in. A Pennsylvania School Boards Association survey taken earlier this month found that 63% of the 195 districts that responded said they would not make it through the year without getting loans.

Superintendent Ginny Hunt of the Clairton City School District said the process recommended by the state was challenging and discouraging. She continued by sharing that her district would be able to pay its teachers until the end of April.

The deficit, writes Karen Langley of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is a result of a disagreement between the governor and the Republicans who were in control of the General Assembly that concerned the budget and other items. Although Wolf signed the GOP-passed budget, he reduced education funding and other areas through the use of a line-item veto to force legislators back to the bargaining table.

Currently, the House and Senate are in hearings to discuss next year’s budget, but still there has been no agreement on school funding for the next academic year.

Sheridan said the governor does not want schools to close, but it is his office’s job to work with schools and to do all that can be done to assist them, reports Jan Murphy writing for The Patriot-News. He added that some school districts were still reeling from bad funding choices made by Gov. Tom Corbett’s previous administration. Wolf, he said, is fighting for a “historic” level of support for education.