Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Survey: Schools Plan Tax Increases, Staff Cuts

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Survey: Schools Plan Tax Increases, Staff Cuts

Article excerpt

HARRISBURG - As the state prepares for what could be another tumultuous budget season, at least 60 percent of Pennsylvania school districts plan to raise property taxes and nearly a third expect to cut staff, according to a survey of districts across the commonwealth.

The Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators and Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials released the results of the survey Monday. It came as lawmakers and Gov. Tom Wolf opened a month in which they will strive to avoid the battle that led to last year's historic stalemate, one that forced some districts to borrow tens of millions of dollars to stay open.

Of the state's 500 school districts, 355, including Philadelphia, participated in the survey. Of those, 85 percent said they planned to increase property taxes next year, 46 percent plan to reduce staff and 34 percent plan to increase class size.

Mr. Wolf has advocated for a big boost in school funding and wants to pay for it with new or increased taxes. The Republicans who control the House and Senate oppose new taxes and say the state needs to cut costs and find new funding streams.

As the new fiscal year looms -the budget deadline is July 1 -districts expect to see $600 million in new costs related to pensions, health care, special education and charter schools. At the same time, they are waiting for state reimbursement for school construction and renovation.

"All of these factors shift the tax burden to the local level," Jay Himes, executive director of the school business officials association said at a news conference to discuss the report. "The cumulative effect of the past five budget years has led to the highest number of districts planning to raise property taxes since we initiated our annual budget reports in 2010."

Jim Buckheit, executive director of the school administrators association, said the groups are asking for additional state funding and for relief from state requirements of local districts. …

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