Thursday, March 24, 2016

Questions questions questions

Major questions remain about the details of Gov. Tom Wolf's decision Wednesday to end the state's historically protracted budget impasse — particularly when it comes to funding for public schools.

Almost nine months beyond last year's budget deadline, Wolf has agreed to allow a $6 billion supplemental spending plan passed by the Republican-held General Assembly to go into effect at the stroke of midnight Monday.

The plan includes $150 million in new basic education spending — far less than the governor had wished.

At a press conference in the Capitol Wednesday, with many districts set to soon run out of cash, Wolf reversed a pledge he made last week to veto the latest budget bill approved by the House and Senate.

"This means that schools will stay open through the end of the year, but unless Harrisburg changes its ways, they won't have adequate funds for next year," he said.

In August, Wolf vetoed a similar budget. As the impasse persisted into late December — with schools starved for state aid — he agreed to OK a partial-year plan that included $50 million in new "Ready to Learn" block grant funding and $30 million in new special-education cash.

But he used his line-item veto power to cut school spending and other state priorities in the hopes of securing a larger education funding boost by leveraging Republican leaders back to the negotiating table.

That tactic did not work, and with Wednesday's action, the new K-12 spending in Wolf's first year is set to total $230 million.

Both sides, though, quibble with that number.

Both disputes are rooted in the fact that Wolf also signaled Wednesday that he will veto the fiscal code bill.

Fiscal code in doubt

Because the fiscal code acts as a roadmap for how education money is divided, Republicans say that if Wolf follows through on that veto, he will effectively keep new spending in limbo.

"You can't spend that $150 million without a fiscal code," said Jenn Kocher, spokeswoman for Senate Republicans.

The Wolf administration disputes that, saying that it will unilaterally distribute funding "in the most appropriate manner possible."

Just before the Christmas holiday, when the General Assembly left Wolf a budget without having passed a fiscal code, the governor decided how to divide block grant funding.

Then, he favored districts such as Philadelphia that were disproportionately hurt when the legislature in 2011 agreed to Gov. Tom Corbett's austerity plan that coincided with the expiration of federal stimulus dollars.

Wolf has pushed to make these restorations before implementing the student-weighted funding formula as proposed by a bipartisan commission.

Republicans disagree with that philosophy, and could challenge Wolf in the courts if he now attempts to disperse cash without their consent.

"We would review our options," said Kocher.

As written, the fiscal code would undo Wolf's December restorations and mean that the School District of Philadelphia would actually lose money in the new deal.

State Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, applauded the governor's decision to reject the code bill, and said he hopes Wolf divides funding in a way that acknowledges the "untenable" stress that he says state lawmakers have placed upon the district.

"At some point an injustice is an injustice, and it's got to be addressed," said Hughes.

Bond issue

Wolf disputes the $230 million figure for an entirely different reason.

Inside the fiscal code, lawmakers had also included a plan to take on a $2.5 billion bond to reimburse some districts for nearly $300 million in capital upgrades this year.

Wolf argues it's a bad idea to pursue borrowing while the state has a structural deficit. His preferred budget plan would have fixed this deficit through tax increases. The Republican-crafted plan, which he's now letting move forward, does not.

So Wolf opposes the bond, arguing that districts will have to cut classroom spending in order to pay for building upgrades that are already underway.

Because of this, Wolf said,  this budget would actually cut classroom spending by $45 million.

John Callahan, the assistant executive director for public policy with Pennsylvania School Boards Association, disagreed with the governor's logic.

"That's a different way of looking at things," he said. "This is money where it's needed, and that is not a cut."

Year one complete

Wolf campaigned for governor on the idea that he'd secure a major statewide funding boost for public education and bring the state's total share of school spending from about 35 percent to about 50 percent.

To accomplish this, he needed to convince the Republican-held legislature to agree to some sort of tax increase.

In the weeks before the election in 2014, he spoke confidently about his ability to overcome the difficulties of divided government.

"I think I'm sensing that there are enough people in the legislature in both parties who recognize that we need to make some changes," he said in an October 2014 interview at WHYY. "And a Marcellus Shale tax is an easy one."

History, so far, hasn't vindicated this position.

A tax on natural gas drilling came off the table early in the protracted negotiation process.

And although Wolf nearly secured a grand bargain in December that would have raised taxes in order to boost school spending and fix the deficit — all while reforming the state employee pension system and overhauling the state liquor store system — that "framework" agreement collapsed without the support of enough rank-and-file lawmakers.

Reacting to Wednesday's news, education advocates sent messages of mixed emotions — happy that it seems schools will get enough money to finish the year, but disappointed they weren't delivered a bigger win.

"Make no mistake, this budget does not solve the state's long-term school funding crisis," said Campaign for Fair Education spokesman Charlie Lyons. "The threshold for a successful school funding system should not be whether there is enough money for schools to keep their doors open and the lights on."

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Round 1 of the budget

Pennsylvania's long state budget nightmare is over.

Gov. Tom Wolf announced Wednesday that he will let a Republican-backed, $7 billion budget closure package take effect without his signature, effectively bringing a truce to a nine-month fiscal and policy war.

That truce will be short-lived, though.

The governor and state lawmakers will have to have a new budget - one in which the governor is seeking election-year tax increases to balance - in place by July 1 for fiscal 2016-17.

But today's action averts a number of potential crisis points around the state, from schools that have threatened to close their doors early to Penn State's planning for the closure of statewide agricultural extension services.

Wolf said he would sign the bills because he is still not personally convinced they represent honest budgeting. But he said he can manage future shortfalls, should they occur, by imposing spending freezes in various line items.

Thursday's announcement was a significant about-face by Wolf, who last week threatened a full veto of the GOP-authored package that he criticized as continuing a pattern of "smoke and mirrors"budgeting.

Wolf was left with dwindling options in recent days, however, as it was becoming increasingly unclear whether his Democratic allies in the House and Senate would be able to sustain such a veto.

Even public school leaders that Wolf has been woking to help have called in recent days for the governor to concentrate on fiscal 2016-17.

Wolf sidestepped questions about the political pressure at his Capitol press conference, saying only that "I think, overwhelmingly, people wanted to do the right thing, and that's what I'm responding to."

It was also becoming clear that, in late March, there was little practical effect to continuing the fight for new program funds that very likely couldn't be spent in this fiscal year.

Republicans, meanwhile, have argued that their plan, which would close out the current fiscal year at just over $30 billion, makes sense on a lot of levels.

It contains a $200 million increase in direct aid to public schools, albeit $175 million less than Wolf had wanted; it holds all taxes at current levels; and it increases state aid to Penn State, Pitt and Temple.

The Democratic governor and the Republican-controlled General Assembly have been locked in Washington-style partisan gridlock for this entire budget year, which started July 1.

State government has operated so far on a combination of Treasury waivers permitting the nuts and bolts state operations to continue without a budget, and, more recently, a partial budget that routed some dollars to cash-starved schools and human service providers.

The battle has pivoted primarily on two poles:

* Wolf's aggressive demands for school funding and other spending increases, much of which the governor argues is simply a matter of accounting fixes needed to put the state's fiscal house in order. Wolf has said he expects the current course to lead to a $2 billion gap between income and expenses in 2016-17.

* Conservative Republicans' aversion to anything approaching the large tax increases that would be needed to achieve Wolf's goals.

Wolf has proposed an increase in the state personal income tax from 3.07 percent to 3.4 percent retroactive to Jan. 1, 2016, as well as extending the state's 6 percent sales tax to cable television services and a $1-per-pack hike in cigarette taxes.

Wolf was insisting, until today, on something closer to the $30.8 billion spending plan that he had agreed to with legislative leaders in December, before fiscal conservatives in the House effectively killed it.

Wolf has argued that's the honest number needed to fund a state government that's been running for too long on one-time transfers and other accounting maneuvers.

But the budget closure plan's supporters have called the current package as good as lawmakers and Wolf can get at this late point in the fiscal year.

They have also argued it will help 2016-17 negotiations because all sides will start from a base spending number that's about $700 million lower.

It now looks as if they've won this round.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

March 2016 AASA

Colleagues, some great articles in this addition of this magazine. 

Closing schools?????

Photo: Christopher Dolan, License: N/A, Created: 2016:03:14 18:29:36

CHRISTOPHER DOLAN / THE CITIZENS’ VOICE Wilkes-Barre Area Superintendent Bernard Prevuznak said at Monday’s school board meeting the district will run out of money in mid-May without state funding and then will have to decide whether to close schools or borrow money.

Districts consider closing schools as money runs out


Area school districts are preparing plans to address running out of money and could close schools in May, weeks before most are scheduled to close for the summer.

State funds due to school districts have not been released because of the ongoing state budget impasse.

Last Thursday, the Greater Nanticoke and Hanover area school boards voted to give administrators the authority to take action in response to the state’s failure to adopt a budget for the fiscal year that began last July.

The Wyoming Valley West School Board could vote today to give employees 60 days notice that schools will close. The Pittston Area School Board is expected to address the budget crisis at tonight’s meeting.

Informational meetings for taxpayers and parents are scheduled to take place in the Wyoming Valley West School District at 7 p.m. tonight and in the Wyoming Area School District at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Tonight’s Wyoming Valley West meeting is at the middle school in Kingston. The Hanover Area School District is hosting a meeting for “all stakeholders of district in Luzerne County” in its high school auditorium at 6:30 p.m. this Monday, Hanover Area Superintendent Andrew Kuhl said in a letter posted on the district’s website.

“There is fear that school districts will not be able to continue operations,” the Wyoming Area School District said in a release about Wednesday’s meeting at the secondary center cafeteria. “The consequences grow serious as many are depleting savings, making cuts and holding off on purchases and payments, or borrowing to meet expenses.”

In January, school districts received about six months worth of 2015-16 funding from the state after Gov. Tom Wolf unlocked emergency funding to school districts with partial vetoes of a $30.3 billion budget from the Republican-controlled state legislature.

“Our goal is to provide uninterrupted, full service to the students of Hanover Area School District. Unfortunately this may not be possible,” Kuhl said.

At the Wilkes-Barre Area School Board meeting on Monday, board member Christine Katsock urged district residents to contact state legislators.

“Apply the heat, ladies and gentlemen, because we are in dire straits,” Katsock said.

Wilkes-Barre Area Superintendent Bernard Prevuznak said he is meeting with district teachers and employees on Wednesday to discuss the budget situation.

“Teachers may not get a paycheck,” he said.

The district will run out of money in mid-May without state funding and then will have to decide whether to close schools or borrow money, Prevuznak said.

“This is an apocalyptic crisis,” he said. “We need your help. We need to come together as a district.”

Dallas Business Manager Grant Palfey said he has been getting a lot of questions about whether the district will end the school year early, like other local districts are considering.

“We’re not in that boat, thank goodness,” he said.

Although Dallas can make it through the rest of the school year, Palfey said the district has a $1.1 million budget deficit to deal with, and committees are looking at ways to cut costs or otherwise get hold of the money.

The Greater Nanticoke Area School District will start paying bills from its reserve fund in the next few weeks, Superintendent Ronald Grevera said.

“With that stated, with no end to the impasse in sight, we will need to cease operations at the end of May,” Grevera said, adding the district will need to give employees 60 days notice that the district will close.

In a how-to memo on closing a school district for lack of funds, the state Department of Education mentioned providing 60 days notice to employees, Kuhl said.

The notice is a requirement in the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN Act), but it may not apply to a school district that has run out of money, he said. The act is often associated with mass layoffs from plant closings.

Day 2 of NREA

Monday, March 14, 2016

Rural Hero Award

Representative Glenn Thompson of PA receives the Rural Association Hero Award for being a strong education advocate for Rural America. 


If you have questions about ESSA go to

Research of Rural Schools

The two previous blogs were related to the research listed below . 


Trends in Rural Schools

Visiting senators

School closings???

National Rural Education Coalition

We meet for breakfast before we go to the Hill. This is a great group of individuals make a significant positive difference for kids in Rural America. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Oh where are Superintendents??

Superintendents leaving schools in 'unprecedented numbers'
By Elizabeth Behrman 
Friday, March 4, 2016, 11:10 p.m.
 13 18 19Google +Reddit Blogger 

Nancy Hines' schedule is often packed with board meetings, staff meetings and disciplinary hearings. 

As superintendent of the Penn Hills School District, she's tasked with helping it rebound from two years of budget deficits. But proposals to raise property taxes, cut courses and eliminate teacher positions haven't won over Penn Hills residents or the teachers union. 

After one year as head of the district, she describes her job as “being close to the firing line.”

“You're trying to hold everybody together, but on the same side of that, we have to be willing to be the bad guy,” said Hines, who makes $140,000 a year. 

School superintendents are leaving the field in “unprecedented numbers,” cracking under the fiscal and political pressure and buckling under additional responsibilities placed on them as school districts cut administrative staff, according to a 2014 study from the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators. On average, superintendents in Pennsylvania spend about three years in the post, the study said. 

As veteran school leaders retire or otherwise leave the field, school boards typically replace them internally or hire first-year superintendents on shorter contracts, the study found. 

All of those factors have created concern about the availability of qualified superintendent candidates across the state, said Jim Buckheit, executive director of PASA and a former state Board of Education member. The PASA study found that, on average, there were 22 acting or substitute superintendents working at a given time during the 2014-15 school year. 

“The job has changed in recent years,” Buckheit said. “It's a combination of the fiscal challenges that districts face and pressures to continue to improve academic outcomes. And instead of having more resources to meet the demands for academic outcomes, they have fewer.” 

Not all superintendents face the same challenges. But none of them has an easy job. 

They answer to demanding school boards, parents and unions, all while trying to find ways to increase student performance without spending more money. 

“Our superintendent starts emailing at some godawful hour of the morning and she's emailing at some godawful hour of the night,” joked Maureen McClure, school board president for the Riverview School District in Oakmont and an associate professor with the University of Pittsburgh's administrative and policy studies program in the School of Education. 

In Westmoreland County, Belle Vernon Superintendent John Wilkinson, who has been on the job for four years, said being superintendent is essentially a 24-hour-a-day position. 

“I wake up in the morning thinking about the job, and I go to bed thinking about the job,” he said. “I love my job. But the truth is, it's tough. A lot of people are likely not getting into (the field) because it is a tough position.” 

As a father of three daughters, Wilkinson said he understands parents' sensitivity when it comes to their children's education. 

“Things that come to my level are never easy,” he said. “They've been vetted, whether it's through teachers, counselors or principals' offices, so when it gets to my office, it's never an easy issue to deal with.” 

In the Franklin Regional School District, Superintendent Gennaro Piraino will mark his third year as the district's head administrator in April. 

“The biggest challenge is getting everyone to come to a level of agreement about what's best for our students from an educational standpoint,” he said. “In the academic, athletic and artistic realms, what's best to help them reach their potential?” 

Some superintendents are held to seemingly unachievable standards. The next Pittsburgh superintendent, for instance, has to have not only a doctoral degree and experience leading a district of comparable size, but also a proven record of building relationships with unions, community groups and student leaders and a “commitment to eradicating institutional racism,” according to a job posting. 

“It's a tough job,” said Brian Perkins, the consultant working with Pittsburgh Public Schools' board to find a replacement for Linda Lane, who is retiring in June. “Kind of unapologetically, we're saying we know.” 

The Pennsylvania Department of Education issued 275 superintendent letters of eligibility in 2014-15, data show. The number fluctuates. It is unclear how many active letters of eligibility there are in the state. 

Completion of a graduate-level letter of eligibility program is required for the state certification. About 40 people are enrolled in the University of Pittsburgh's program, said Jerry Longo, who oversees Pitt's program. He also leads the Western Pennsylvania Forum for School Superintendents, which has about 50 members who meet twice a year for networking and professional development. 

A former superintendent in the Steel Valley and Quaker Valley school districts, Longo understands the unique challenges and “loneliness” that sometimes accompany the job. 

He remembers fretting over his contract renewal every few years and having to explain to his wife that he could be out of a job if the board didn't like his work. 

The forum he runs provides district leaders the opportunity to interact with other people experiencing the same things, Longo said. 

“We know what a hard career it is,” he said. “Without a lot of support, for some people it can become overwhelming.” 

Smaller or rural districts have trouble retaining good leaders because many of them become “training grounds” for superintendents who move up to larger or more established districts, Longo said. 

“A lot of times, it's really hard for them to get people and keep people,” he said. “The staying power is an issue.” 

Patrick O'Toole has been superintendent of the Upper St. Clair School District for about 10 years. He started climbing the administration ladder after deciding that he could lead the district as well as or better than his superiors when he was a teacher. 

He thought he knew what to expect when he accepted the job as superintendent, but things like the added costs of new technology, special education practices or mental health policies weren't factors he considered as a teacher. 

“I'm happy with the decision,” O'Toole said. “But even though I think I went into it with my eyes wide open, it's much more complex than I ever imagined it to be.” 

Hines, a Penn Hills resident and parent, has no immediate plans to leave her position. She has a four-year contract with the district. 

She began her career as a high school biology teacher in Penn Hills and moved to the Steel Valley and Gateway districts as she worked her way up from assisting principal to principal to assistant superintendent. Hines was promoted to superintendent in February 2015. 

“I absolutely love my job, although it can be grueling at times and full of uncertainty,” she said. 

Staff writer Patrick Varine contributed to this report. Elizabeth Behrman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7886.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Calling their Bluff

Area officials: Threat of school closings may be only way to end state budget battle

Officials say budget impasse needs impetus

Times Leader by Mark Guydish - First Posted: 11:43 pm - February 29th, 2016 Updated: 12:46 am - March 1st, 2016. 
KINGSTON — During an emotionally-charged exchange that often evoked unguarded passion from area legislators and school district officials, state Rep. Tarah Toohil summed the fear that kept rising to the top: Schools running out of money and closing.  “When the kids are supposed to be graduating and the school is not even functioning for them to graduate, that’s when the pressure will come,” the Butler Township Republican said during a Monday evening roundtable in Kingston regarding the eight-month budget impasse. “That’s when you’ll have the budget you need. But it really is a travesty that it’s going to take the ultimate pressure.”  The Luzerne Intermediate Unit, which provides various services to area schools, hosted the roundtable that drew superintendents, business managers and school board members from area districts, along with Toohil and state Reps. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre, Mike Carrol, D-Avoca, Gerald Mullery, D-Newport Township, and Aaron Kaufer, R-Kingston.