Meadville Tribune

Opinion

May 11, 2011

Rep. Roae sends budget opinions to Crawford Central School Board

MEADVILLE — Editor’s note: Republican state Rep. Brad Roae e-mailed a statement to members of Crawford Central School Board because he was unable to attend Monday’s public budget discussion. The full text of his message is posted here and is also being published in two pieces, in Wednesday’s and Thursday’s Tribunes. I am in Harrisburg and cannot attend the public meeting tonight (Monday). I wanted to share the information that I think needs to be presented. First, $1 billion in federal stimulus funds’ education money is in the current fiscal year of the Pennsylvania General Fund budget. That drops to zero dollars in the new fiscal year which starts on July 1. The temporary, one-time-only supplemental funding provided by the stimulus funds (ARRA funds) end at the end of this fiscal year and that is driving the “cuts.” There is also $2 billion of federal stimulus funds in the current General Fund budget for Medical assistance. That drops to zero in the new fiscal year. This is a total of $3 billion, or 11 percent, of the General Fund budget revenue that is not available in the new fiscal year. State spending on education in the governor’s budget proposal actually increases by 2 percent in the new fiscal year. State money generated by state taxes which goes to education will be more in the new fiscal year than in the current fiscal year. Over $9 billion of education spending is in the governor’s budget proposal. Even though the state will not have $3 billion of federal stimulus funds in the new fiscal year, the governor is proposing that we spend more state money on education. Education funding in the General Fund budget has increased 55 percent in the past 10 years. The entire General Fund budget has increased by about 40 percent in the past 10 years. The inflation rate in the past 10 years was around 25 percent. Education spending has been growing at a much higher rate than the inflation rate and at a much higher rate than the growth of the overall General Fund budget. About 300 of the 600 line items in the governor’s proposed General Fund budget either receive cuts or get eliminated. Some of those line items are in the education part of the budget, but most of them are in many other sections of the budget. Last year almost everything in the General Fund budget received cuts, except education spending. The year before that almost everything in the General Fund budget received cuts, except education spending. Education spending received the largest increase in the history of Pennsylvania with the use of the federal stimulus funds when almost all other state government funded things received cuts. Statewide, the average school district in Pennsylvania gets about 38 percent of its funding from the state. I think Crawford Central is around 45 percent, so it is state-funded at a higher level than average school districts. When looking at the overall growth of education spending, Crawford Central has done much better than the average school district and much better than most other things that are state-funded. There has also been a large decline in enrollment in the last 10 years, so fewer students need to be educated with the state funding. The average school district in Pennsylvania spends 62 percent of its budget on salaries and benefits. I would recommend that the school board take a close look at the salary and benefit expenses of the district. I think teachers should receive a good salary and benefits package so that we can attract and retain good teachers. But there also has to be an ability of the local taxpayers and the state taxpayers to be able to afford it. The starting salary for a brand new first-year teacher right out of college in Crawford Central for the new school year will be $46,714. The health insurance monthly premium the teacher pays is $25 a month for the PPO (preferred provider organization) plan. Most teachers who start teaching right out of college can retire at age 57 with 35 years of service with a pension that equals 100 percent of their final take-home pay. This is a very competitive salary and benefits package that far exceeds what the average recent college graduate receives working for local human services agencies, private companies and other organizations. The General McLane School District in Edinboro has a starting salary for a first year teacher of $37,588, in Wattsburg it is $37,842, and in Corry it is $41,162. Over in Warren County School District the starting pay is $41,400. Down in Mercer County at Commodore Perry it is $38,000. Does Crawford Central need to start at $46,714 to attract good teachers? I would suggest that General McLane, Wattsburg, Corry, Warren and Commodore Perry also have good teachers and the students in those schools receive good educations. New teachers in Crawford Central get paid $259 for each student school day when their annual salary is divided by 180 school days. In General McLane new teachers get $208 for each student school day. Does the extra $51 a day in pay result in better teaching? I would suggest that both school districts attract dedicated, talented, hard-working teachers who have a passion for education and helping kids. Crawford Central has about 300 teachers. The multi-year contract with several steps and several pay scales for bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, master’s degrees plus extra credit, etc., creates a lot of numbers to look at, but if teachers are each making about $9,000 a year more than the General McLane teachers all through the pay scale, that is an extra cost of $2.7 million a year. I am not saying Crawford Central should use the General McLane pay scale, but if it did, $2.7 million would be available to spend on other things such as full-day kindergarten, band, music lessons, art, computers, books, AP (advanced placement) classes, smaller class sizes, etc. The average private sector person with a college degree who has a job in Crawford County pays $300 or more a month for the employee portion of the health insurance policy. If 300 teachers paid the same amount compared to what they are paying now, it would generate another $990,000 a year. If Crawford Central teachers were paid like General McLane teachers and if Crawford Central teachers paid the same for their health insurance that the average college-educated career person in Crawford County pays, the school district budget would be about $3.7 million less than it is now. Some school board members and administrators frequently talk about the expense of bus expenses to transport kids to church schools, the cost of legal ads in newspapers, the 1 percent of the total school district budget that is spent on cyber school tuition, etc. Since the average school district in Pennsylvania spends 62 percent of the budget on salaries and benefits, those areas need to be looked at. I am not suggesting a pay cut, but I really do think a multi-year pay freeze including a step increase freeze would be in order to get the costs under control. I requested earned income tax information from several local school districts about two months ago and I do not recall receiving a reply from Crawford Central. PENNCREST collected 1 percent less earned income tax in 2010 than it did in 2005. Titusville collected about 1 percent more in 2010 compared to 2005. Generally speaking, earned incomes are flat in Crawford County based on the earned income tax collections. Taxpayers on average are making the same amount today as they were making five years ago. Senior citizens and persons with disabilities who live on their Social Security checks have not received a raise in the past two years. Since the average taxpayer has had a several-year pay freeze, I do not consider it to be anti-teacher or anti-education to suggest that teachers do the same thing. My local staff have not received raises so far in 2011 and they did not get raises in 2010 or 2009. Many non-union state workers who are supervisors and managers for Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, the prisons, etc., have not had raises for a few years. Taxpayers cannot afford a local tax increase and they cannot afford a state tax increase. There is not an unlimited amount of money that can be spent on education and we are not going to just raise taxes on businesses as some people are suggesting so schools can spend more. Human Services agencies that work with MH/MR (mental health/mental retardation) clients, hospitals that treat Medical assistance patients, foster care agencies that protect children, and hundreds of other state-funded things have made adjustments to deal with budget cuts in the past three years. I am confident that our local school districts and teachers can also make adjustments. Many of these same issues also impact the state Legislature. I am the prime sponsor of legislation that would abolish the automatic COLA (cost-of-living-allowance) pay raise that is granted each Dec. 1 from a 1995 law that is still in effect. (The 2005 legislative pay raise law was repealed, but the 1995 law is still in force.) I am a cosponsor of the Speaker’s legislation to reduce the size of the Legislature. I support the $200 million of surplus funds that the legislative leaders control be moved to more productive purposes such as paying off state debt or putting it in the PSERS (Public School Employees’ Retirement System) pension fund. We need to better use attrition to reduce the amount of staff that we have. One of my employees retired in 2010 and I did not replace the employee, and I even moved to a smaller, less expensive office since I now need less space. I have never spent one cent on a paper newsletter that requires postage, printing and paper. I have never paid for a “public service announcement” on the radio or TV. I would also recommend that you halt the school renovation projects since you cannot afford to pay for them. The annual bond payments that you are paying on the unnecessary portions of the projects is money that you are paying back that you should not have borrowed. It appears that unofficially you have decided to close Second District Elementary School even though you just spent millions to renovate it. There is now consideration to spend several million dollars to renovate West End School. The total kindergarten to grade 12 enrollment from 10 years ago and today should also be looked at when evaluating increasing the square footage area of the schools with these renovation projects. State funding will never be able to keep up with the salaries and benefits and the debt service on your aggressive renovation plans. Some people think that the state should provide 50 percent of a school district’s budget, but that is not possible when the salaries, benefits costs to the district, debt payments on renovation related bond issues, etc., is like it is. Pennsylvania owes the federal government about $3 billion for unemployment benefits we had to pay out that exceeded how much we had in our unemployment account. A court decision is requiring Pennsylvania to pay back several hundred million dollars we stole from the MCARE account two years ago. (I voted no on that reckless legislation.) The pension fix joke that we passed last fall (I voted no) means that the high pension spike contribution level that was avoided this year will still take place, but a few years down the road. A court decision from several years ago is still hanging out there that the state has to pay the full cost of the county court system and would have a price of several hundred million dollars a year if it is ever enforced. These issues will cause the state to continue to have a difficult time balancing budgets in the future. There are a lot of good mandate relief bills that we are working on and I hope we can pass many of them to help you out. You have a lot of well-educated dedicated teachers who do a good job and I think based on the financial pressures, they would be willing to work with you on controlling costs. The people in your district cannot afford a property tax increase, so I would urge you to balance your budget without a tax increase. Roae, a Republican, represents the state’s Sixth District that includes much of central, northern and eastern Crawford County.

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