Erie School Crisis: MADE IN HARRISBURG

The Erie School District was critically threatened by the 2015 budget impasse during which the governor and the General Assembly were unable to agree upon a statewide funding plan. By September 2015, the district was short $17 million in back payments. Superintendent Dr. Jay Badams testified before the Pennsylvania Democratic Policy Committee, and then requested a $47 million no-interest loan from the State Treasury to prevent Erie schools from shutting down.  The loan would have funded the schools until March 2016.  Dr. Badams’ stated that the school district should not have to borrow money at taxpayer expense while the funding to operate was sitting in state coffers.  Treasury officials said they would seriously consider making a payment to Erie schools if the Department of Education requested it, but Gov. Wolf said he would not permit the Department to make that request.  Badams’ attempt to prevent incurring further public cost was denied.  Badams called this an incomprehensible waste of taxpayer money. 

Information put out by the school district said they would have to start considering worst case scenarios such as shutting down the schools or having staff working without pay.  The district urged concerned citizens to reach out to their public officials and provided contact info, and the top individual suggested was Sen. Sean Wiley.

Talk of a stopgap budget to ease the threat to schools like Erie continued through the fall.  A budget bill shepherded by the republican caucuses finally made it to the governor’s desk.  The bill, HB 1460 PN 2626, was called “garbage” by Gov. Wolf.  The governor stripped out nearly half of the basic education subsidy but permitted emergency funding to keep schools open. Wolf said that he was, “…at a point where I don't want to hold the children of Pennsylvania hostage … I wanted to get some funds out so the schools don't have to close next week.

On December 23, 2015, Sen. Wiley sided with the Wolf agenda and sixteen other senate democrats and voted against the bill which kept schools open.  Because Wolf had stripped nearly half of the public school support out of the budget, another budget supplement was needed in the spring.  This budget bill, HB 1801 PN 2968, provided more than $3.1 billion in additional support to keep schools open for the rest of the year. On March 16, 2016, Sen. Wiley voted against that as well.

 

Sources: ErieSD.org; PennLive.com, 10/21/15; PennLive.com, 12/29/15; PennLive.com, 12/29/15; Senate Floor Vote RCS# 397; PA Office of the Budget 2015-16 Final Enacted Budget Line-Item Appropriations; Senate Floor Vote RCS# 429. 

http://www.eriesd.org/Page/12438

http://www.pennlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2015/10/erie_school_officials_unwillin.html

http://www.pennlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2015/12/wolf_signs_his_version_of_stop.html

http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2015/12/wolf_taxes_state_budget.html

http://www.legis.state.pa.us/CFDOCS/Legis?RC/Public/rec_view_action2.cfm?sess_yr=2015&sess_ind=0&rc_body=S&rc_nbr=397

http://www.legis.state.pa.us/CFDOCS/Legis?RC/Public/rc_view_action2.cfm?sess_yr=2015&sess_ind=0&rc_body=S&rc_nbr=429

http://www.budget.pa.gov/PublicationsAndReports/CommonwealthBudget/Documents/2015-16%20Enacted%20Budget/2015-16_Enacted_Tracking_Run_Final.pdf

 

Key Points

  • The budget impasse threatened to trigger a shutown.
  • Superintendent Dr. Jay Badams recommended a loan from the Treasury to prevent incurring additional taxpayer cost. 
  • Wolf blocked the attempt for Erie schools to get relief.
  • Wolf and most senate Democrats opposed the December stopgap funding. Sen. Sean Wiley was among the votes against school relief. Wolf permitted a limited amount of state funding to be released to prevent an immediate shutdown, while prolonging the jeopardy to schools.
  • Wolf cut the funding in the December budget bill in order to maintain leverage over the general assembly.  Wiley voted against a March budget supplement to send more than $3.1 billion to schools.  Wolf refused to sign the final bill, instead allowing it to lapse into law without his signature.

 

Bill Number

Funding for Schools

Wiley Vote

Date of Vote

HB 1460, PN 2626

$5.63 Billion*

NO

12/23/15

HB 1801, PN 2968

$3.15 Billion

NO

3/16/16

HB 1192

 

NO

6/30/2015

HB 762

 

NO

6/30/2015

SB 1000

 

NO

9/18/2015

SB 1001

 

NO

9/18/2015

SB 224

 

NO

9/18/2015

SB 1000

 

NO

10/28/2015

 

*The bill provided $5.63 Billion to support schools, but Gov. Wolf cut the funding to $2.53 Billion with a line-item veto. 

 

Comparison: Republican-led HB 1801 2015-16 Basic Education Funding and Ready-to-Learn Block Grants vs. Gov. Wolf’s Distribution Plan for Erie County Schools

 

School District

HB 1801

Gov. Wolf Plan

$ Difference In Wolf Plan

% Difference in Wolf Plan

Erie City

$62,513,960

$61,361,063

($1,152,897)

-1.8%

Corry Area

$13,239,164

$13,229,825

($9,339)

-0.1%

Fairview

$3,205,593

$3,149,950

($55,643)

-1.7%

Fort Leboeuf

$6,962,933

$6,902,130

($60,803)

-0.9%

General McLane

$10,647,943

$10,568,005

($79,938)

-0.8%

Girard

$8,851,583

$8,786,210

($65,373)

-0.7%

Harbor Creek

$8,940,146

$8,898,586

($41,560)

-0.5%

Iroquois

$8,524,519

$8,449,507

($75,012)

-0.9%

 

 

 

 

 

Millcreek Twp.

$14,433,333

$14,114,918

($318,415)

-2.2%

North East

$8,716,448

$8,655,545

($60,903)

-0.7%

Northwestern

$9,261,585

$9,300,224

+$38,639

+0.4%

Union City Area

$9,490,755

$9,392,773

($97,982)

-1.0%

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