Districts consider closing schools as money runs out
Published: March 14, 2016
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.