Wolf’s budget proposal bolsters confidence in receipt of $14 million in aid.
The Erie School District’s financial situation improved significantly with Tuesday’s release of Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed 2018-19 budget, which increases state funding for the district by more than $15 million.
But the more concrete relief is expected to arrive in the next several weeks when the district receives $14 million from the state.
All signs point to the district getting that money. Its receipt will trigger a clause in a new law that boosts the district’s annual state aid by $14 million in 2018-19 and every fiscal year thereafter.
Wolf’s proposed 2018-19 budget reflects the increase. It includes an additional $14 million for the district’s basic education subsidy, plus another $1.2 million in a regular increase of the subsidy.
But the long wait for the $14 million, which the General Assembly authorized months ago, has created a bit of anxiety at the school district. No one doubts the check will soon be in the mail, but the wait has let concerns linger.
“I am a little disappointed that it has taken this long, but I am confident it is on its way,” state Sen. Dan Laughlin, of Millcreek Township, R-49th Dist., who helped the Erie School District secure the $14 million in additional funding, said on Friday.
The district on Jan. 3 completed an application for the funding, but a number of officials, including state Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera and Attorney General Josh Shapiro, must approve the release of the money, according to the application. The funds will come out of the state’s $21.15 million Educational Access account.
Wolf’s spokesman, J.J. Abbott, said the $14 million will arrive soon.
“I’m not aware that there are any delays — it is just a process that has many steps at different agencies,” Abbot said in an email on Friday. “The money is on target for expected release in late February or early March.”
A recap is in order to understand the importance of the release of the $14 million from the Educational Access account for the current fiscal year.
• State lawmakers in July agreed to allocate the $14 million to the Erie School District in 2016-17 to help it remain solvent and improve its programs and buildings.
The district blamed its problems partly on inadequate state funding in the past. The district undertook a sweeping restructuring plan, including the closing of two elementary schools and the merger of two of its three high schools, to show it had made significant efforts for financial recovery on its own.
• The General Assembly in October passed a budget bill that made the $14 million in additional funding permanent for the Erie School District. The law stipulates that the district’s annual state basic education subsidy will increase by $14 million, starting in 2018-19, once the state releases the $14 million in Educational Access funds for 2016-17.
• The release of the $14 million in Educational Access funds is also to trigger the appointment of a state-paid financial administrator to monitor the Erie School District’s finances. Wolf has yet to make that appointment.
Wolf’s proposed increase for the Erie School District for 2018-19 shows that he has built the $14 million boost into the district’s basic education subsidy, though the state has yet to release the $14 million in Educational Access funds. Wolf’s budget proposal made Erie schools Superintendent Brian Polito more confident, if not completely worry-free.
“This is actually the first time since we’ve been promised this money that we’ve actually seen it in black-and-white, so it was very reassuring to me that this is going to move forward and we are going to see it in recurring years,” Polito told the Erie School Board at a meeting on Wednesday.
The vice president of the School Board, John Harkins, raised questions.
“How much do we have to fear that the Legislature would haggle over that and backtrack?” he said. “I don’t want to suggest that they will, but I’ve been through some of this before. It’s good news that it is in his proposal, but that doesn’t guarantee it.”
“It gives us another level of assurance,” Polito said. “But, certainly, until we receive the $14 million, which really triggers it being legislatively put into the ’18-19 budget and beyond, there certainly is going to be a little bit of concern.”
Based on the state’s actions so far, Polito said he remains optimistic about the release of the $14 million.
“We are hoping that it does happen rather quickly,” he told the board.
Ed Palattella can be reached at 870-1813 or by email. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ETNpalattella.
Posted by Walter Real