Wednesday, June 21, 2017

PA Ed Policy Roundup June 21: Districts Dealing with $144M PSERS Increase While $100M BEF Increase May be Up In the Air

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup June 21, 2017:

Credit rating agencies see little impact by SB1 on PA's pension problems. 
Capitolwire Email June 20, 2017 (paywall)
Global credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s released a statement last week seemingly devaluing the impact of Pennsylvania’s new pension reform law, saying the measure’s effects on the state’s budget and credit are “negligible.” And less than a week after S&P’s statement, another global credit agency released a similarly critical statement of Senate Bill 1, now Act 5 of 2017. Moody’s wrote in a statement obtained by Capitolwire Monday, “… any significant savings from risk shifting will take decades to materialize and will not reduce already-accumulated unfunded liabilities.” CLICK HERE to read a story from PLCA Intern Sarah Mearhoff for more about the credit rating agencies’ take on the impact of Senate Bill 1.

Please consider taking action on this alert to urge your legislators to keep the $100 million increase for Basic Education Funding that the Governor proposed and the House agreed with.
ALERT: $100 million in funding for PA's schools is in jeopardy
Education Voters PA Legislative Alert June 19, 2017
State lawmakers are  working to pass a budget for next year and we are hearing that many do not support Governor Wolf's proposed $100 million increase in funding for public school students.  Unless the state invests more in Basic Education Funding, our public schools will continue to be forced to make cuts that hurt students and enact local tax increases that hurt communities.  To keep our schools from falling too far behind, state lawmakers must reject any budget that does not contain at least a $100 million increase in Basic Education Funding and they must make no other cuts to public schools.  Please take action. Lawmakers need to hear from their constituents so they make students a priority.

Lawmakers considering borrowing money to balance budget
WITF Written by Katie Meyer, Capitol Bureau Chief | Jun 19, 2017 10:31 PM
 (Harrisburg) -- The Republican majority leaders of Pennsylvania's House and Senate say they're determined to put together a budget without raising taxes.  That means making up this year's $1.5 billion shortfall, plus accounting for a roughly $3 billion structural deficit.  To get it done, the final plan is likely to involve significant borrowing.  One option under consideration would involve using an asset as collateral to get a loan, which would be paid off over 25 years or so.  Several assets could be used. One contender is the state's significant tobacco fund, which comes from a settlement with tobacco companies two decades ago.   Senate Appropriations Chair, Republican Pat Browne, noted that other states have used the same tactic.  "A long list of many options are on the table," he said when asked if the loan was a possibility. "It's not ahead of anything at this point in time, [to the point where] I could say definitively that that is part of the plan."  Browne said the revenue plan isn't set in stone, but he's adamant that tax increases aren't happening.

Baer: Pa. lawmakers are masters of the Puniverse
Philly Daily News by John Baer, Political Columnist Updated: JUNE 20, 2017 — 10:37 PM EDT
Just in terms of raw politics, our legislature deserves special notice.  In the small-ball world of Harrisburg, it consistently manages to protect itself and its donors, hence its members’ 90 percent-plus reelection rates.  And, with a little more than a week to go before the annual July 1 deadline for a new state budget, it appears poised to reprise its insulated ways.  How?  By looking at deficits and budget holes, totaling in the billions, that it dug itself in years past, and dealing with them in the same manner — namely, digging deeper.  In addition to talk of more gambling and booze licenses, there are reported discussions of borrowing against future money due the state from the 1998 national Tobacco Settlement Agreement.  This is dough the tobacco industry pays in perpetuity to Pennsylvania and other states in exchange for dropped lawsuits seeking tobacco-related health-care costs.  The fund last year brought the state $387 million. The borrowing chatter calls for floating a big bond — as in the billions — secured by future annual payments.  In other words, borrow more in order to stay in business, in order to keep doing what you’re doing: running up debt and interest due.  Is this what a GOP-controlled legislature considers sound fiscal policy?  It’s particularly offensive since, if the state couldn’t meet payments on the bond, the money could come from the annual tobacco allotment.  That allotment, according to House Appropriations Committee data, is used principally for health-related issues, low-income nursing home care, assistance for the disabled, and community services to help senior citizens stay in their homes.

Will the case for a drilling tax finally sink in this year?: Gene DiGirolamo and Steve Stroman
PENNLIVE OP-ED By Gene DiGirolamo and Steve Stroman Updated on June 20, 2017 at 11:52 AM Posted on June 20, 2017 at 8:00 AM
State Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, a Republican, represents the Bucks County-based 18th House District. Steve Stroman is an environmental and conservation policy consultant from Lancaster County.
Pennsylvania's state budget has been balanced in recent years using one-time revenue sources and creative accounting gimmicks.  As Auditor General Eugene DePasquale and Treasurer Joe Torsella recently pointed out, the Commonwealth faces a structural budget imbalance of upward of $3 billion. Cracks can be creatively papered over; a chasm is, or should be, a different story.   It is therefore high time that the General Assembly consider a fair and reasonable natural gas drilling tax (or severance tax) as it enters the home stretch in its work on the budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year that starts on July 1.  Pennsylvania remains the only major natural gas-producing state in the nation without a drilling tax.  We do have a modest impact fee, which should be preserved, but the non-partisan Independent Fiscal Office found that the fee translates into the lowest effective natural gas tax rate in the United States.  Placing a fair and reasonable tax on top of the impact fee, which in sum would be around the same rate as the severance tax rate in neighboring West Virginia, will yield hundreds of millions of extra dollars per year in revenue for the Commonwealth. 

Time may be right for school choice expansion, former governor says
Sunbury Daily Item By John Finnerty CNHI Harrisburg Bureau June 20, 2017
HARRISBURG — Former Gov. Tom Ridge said Monday there has never been a better opportunity nationally for advocates of student choice.  Ridge visited the Capitol to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Pennsylvania’s charter school law with school choice proponents. He was governor when Pennsylvania passed the law establishing rules that paved the way for the now 170 brick-and-mortar charter and cyber charter schools that now serve 1-in-14 public school students.  “The political landscape is never going to be better,” Ridge said after he accepted a champion of choice award from the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools.  President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the U.S. Department of Education is Betsy DeVos, a longtime crusader for school choice. Plus, Republicans control both the U.S. House and Senate, Ridge said.  “Whether they can make it work or not, I don’t know,” Ridge said. “Now would be the time for them to rethink and reshape” education to improve school choice opportunities.  Ridge described school choice as a means of giving parents more options to provide their children with better education. He said he views educational opportunity the way he views energy policy – that having more options is better.  Trump’s proposed education budget would cut spending by 13.5 percent, or by $9.2 billion. The president’s proposals include eliminating after-school programs for students who need extra help, funds for additional teacher training and money for literacy programs.  Trump has proposed an additional $250 million in scholarships to help low-income students attend private schools and $167 million for states to fund charter schools. His budget proposal last week also included $1 billion in grants to school districts that permit students to choose their public school.

“Board members said a tax increase was needed in large part to raise more revenue so the school district can handle state mandated expenses like the annual contribution to the Pennsylvania School Employees Retirement System.  Neshaminy's PSERS contribution for 2017-2018 will be $25.5 million, a $2.5 million increase from this school year. The state will eventually reimburse the school district for half its contribution but that is still a huge chunk of the budget, board members pointed out.  "It's a significant driver of everything we do in this district," said board member Steve Pirritano of the PSERS obligation.”
Neshaminy school board votes to raise taxes for first time in eight years
Bucks County Courier Times By Chris English, staff writer June 20, 2017
Seven straight years without a property tax increase has come to an end for Neshaminy School District residents.  The school board on Tuesday night approved a final $186.47 million budget for 2017-2018 that includes a tax increase of 2.5 percent, or 3.8 mills. That's $105 more in annual taxes for a resident with a property assessed at the school district average of $27,587.  The increase hikes total millage in the district to 155.8, or $4,298 in annual taxes for a resident with the average assessed property.  The 2.5 percent increase was the normal maximum allowed Neshaminy for next school year by the state's Act 1 Index. The district was granted exceptions that would have allowed a tax hike higher than 2.5 percent but the school board chose not to use them.

Hempfield Area schools raise taxes to cover pension costs
Trib Live by MATTHEW GUERRY | Tuesday, June 20, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
The rising cost of state pension contributions are to blame for the latest hike in property taxes, Hempfield Area School District officials said.  The $95.75 million budget the board approved Monday raises property taxes by 2.47 mills to 82.21, or $82.21 for every $1,000 of a property's assessed value. A story in Tuesday's edition of the Tribune-Review contained incorrect information about the size of the increase.  Contributions to the Public School Employees' Retirement System under the budget will be $13.2 million, up $1.5 million from last year, Business Manager Wayne Wismar said. The average assessed value of residential property in the district is $20,321, Wismar said.  “It's getting more and more difficult for school districts to balance our budgets,” Superintendent Barbara Marin said.

“Business manager Sean Daubert said much of the district's rise in expenses over the last five years has been due to the increased rates in the Public School Employees' Retirement System. In the coming year, the district has budgeted for a $1.9 million increase in state-mandated pension costs.  "It's one of the smallest increases in the last five years in PSERS," Daubert explained. "Really in the last five years, that rate's probably gone from somewhere about 10 percent to over 30 percent."
Pennridge holds the line on school taxes
Intelligencer By Michele Haddon, staff writer June 20, 2017
For the first time in five years, the Pennridge school board has held the line on taxes.
The board voted unanimously Monday night to adopt its $133.1 million budget for 2017-2018 without a tax increase.  "We have had a business manager that has been quite conservative with budgeting and has tried to keep the numbers as reasonable as possible. So, this is the third time in seven years that we have not increased taxes," said Peter Yarnell, president of the school board.  Not everyone was satisfied with the district's spending plan, which is $2 million higher than the current year's budget.   Comparing the projected spending for 2017-2018 to the actual $114 million in 2012-2013 expenses, West Rockhill resident and former board member Sue Furlong criticized the board for spending increases over recent years.  "I hope you all get your spending and your taxing under control because $19 million every four to five years will bankrupt this community," Furlong said during public comment at Monday's meeting.

Greater Latrobe considers reducing faculty positions by 3
Trib Live by JEFF HIMLER  | Tuesday, June 20, 2017, 11:03 p.m.
Greater Latrobe School Board is considering a net reduction of three faculty positions as it prepares to adopt a final 2017-18 district budget June 27.  Business administrator Dan Watson told the board Tuesday that the recommended $55.4 million budget and 1.75-mill property tax hike take into account nine faculty retirements — approved through an early retirement incentive — that are expected to save the district about $600,000.  Of those positions, five are being eliminated through attrition while two positions are being added, he said.  According to Watson, the district intends to eliminate four elementary classroom positions, including a music instructor and a learning support teacher. A nursing position also will be cut, but will be replaced by a less-costly health assistant.

Plum school taxes to rise by 4.4 percent
Trib Live by MICHAEL DIVITTORIO | Tuesday, June 20, 2017, 10:36 p.m.
Plum School District property owners will pay 4.4 percent more in real estate taxes next school year, and the district will borrow more money to balance its budget.  Board members voted 6-3 on Tuesday evening to approve their final 2017-18 budget of about $66 million that calls for a property tax hike of 0.866-mill.  Voting for the budget were Board President Kevin Dowdell, Vice President Michelle Stepnick and fellow School Directors Jim Rogers, Reginald Hickman, Michele Gallagher and Rich Zucco.  Sue Caldwell, Steve Schlauch and Vicky Roessler dissented.  The current tax rate is 19.377 mills, and the increase sets next year's millage at 20.243 mills.  One mill generates about $1.5 million of revenue for the district.  A property owner with the median home value of $110,000 will pay $95 more in taxes.  The minority directors all said not enough was done to curtail expenses and adjust staffing to declining enrollment.  The budget includes no program or staffing cuts.

10 furloughed Gateway teachers will still have jobs
Trib Live by CHRISTINE MANGANAS | Tuesday, June 20, 2017, 11:45 p.m.
The Gateway School Board voted Tuesday night to eliminate 10 teaching positions, but the administration emphasized that none of these teachers would be out of a job.  In a 9-0 vote, a dozen teachers will receive furlough notices by the end of the month, but according to administrators they will all have an opportunity to remain teaching in the district.
Officials cited a 24 percent drop in enrollment since 2007 as one of the factors.  But when it comes to furloughs at Gateway, the system is like a checkerboard, said Superintendent William Short.  “We have done (furloughs) for the last three or four years,” Short said. “It is how we are able to remain financially stable.”  Board members and administrators said that retirements, resignations and extended leaves provide open positions within the district's seven schools.

SRC approves teachers' contract
Teachers have a contract for the first time in four years. Bill Green is the only no vote; he and Farah Jimenez warn of local tax hikes.
The notebook by Dale Mezzacappa and Avi Wolfman-Arent June 20, 2017 — 7:07pm
The School Reform Commission approved a new contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers Tuesday amid warnings that a significant increase in city property taxes will be needed to pay for it. The vote was 4-1.  Commissioner and former City Council member Bill Green was the sole “no” vote, calling the three-year pact “unaffordable and irresponsible.” District officials said it would cost $203 million over the three-year life of the contract and $395 million over five years -- funds currently not in any budget projections.  SRC chair Joyce Wilkerson (who joined the meeting by phone) and members Farah Jimenez, Christopher McGinley and Estelle Richman voted in favor, although not without warnings of “challenges” ahead in finding the necessary funding.  Even so, the new deal marks a milestone for the District, which had been consumed with talk of teacher resignations and general unrest as the contract stalemate lengthened.  “My goal has been to reach a fair contract that recognizes and rewards teachers for their contributions, but does so in a way that appreciates the District’s financial limits,” said Superintendent William Hite.  This agreement “accomplishes this goal.”  Hite repeatedly called the teachers' contract his top priority, saying it was necessary to help the District retain talented staff.  “Our teachers have gone too long without a contract and this contract will provide stability for the School District moving forward,” said Hite. “Stability means we have teachers who are not looking to go elsewhere and staying to teach here.”

PFT contract now in force; SRC says it could mean layoffs or tax hikes
Inquirer by Kristen A. Graham, Staff Writer  @newskag | Updated: JUNE 20, 2017 — 2:27 PM EDT
The Philadelphia School District and its teachers’ union have a new contract, with the School Reform Commission signing off on the pact Tuesday.  But the vote was 4-1, with Commissioner Bill Green labeling the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers deal as “unaffordable and irresponsible,” warning that it could mean either 3,800 teacher layoffs or 17 percent property-tax hikes for city residents.  The cost of the pact balloons the district’s projected deficit, which had been about $700 million, to almost $1 billion over five years.  The contract, which runs through August 2020, will cost $202 million over three years and $395 million through 2022.  Green said that teachers, who worked four years without a new contract, deserved a raise, but that it came at far too high a price.  “It is not paid for, and there is no commitment to pay for it,” said Green. “The city administration intervened in these negotiations and proposed a number to both sides that we cannot afford.”  The school system projects a deficit beginning next year, but that is not new.  With the PFT contract tacked on, its fiscal gap rises to $979 million. Green pressed Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. and chief financial officer Uri Monson on the dollar commitments the district has received from the city and state to cover that gap.  The state has not offered to help; in fact, Republican leaders have expressed disbelief that the district would agree to a contract it cannot now afford. City leaders have cheered the deal.

Editorial: Don't count on Harrisburg to help pay for Philly's new PFT contract
by The Inquirer Editorial Board Updated: JUNE 20, 2017 — 12:51 PM EDT
Congratulations are due the School District of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers for finally ending a four-year stalemate and agreeing on a new contract.  But don’t spend too much time celebrating the deal approved Tuesday by the School Reform Commission because the document won’t be worth the paper it’s written on if there’s no money to pay for the $202.6 million pact, effective until August 2020.  And right now, there isn’t.  “We will be at the state’s door, knocking on the door, asking them to meet us, help us meet this obligation,” City Council President Darrell L. Clarke said Monday. “I don’t know how that will play out, but we’re hoping.”  Hope springs eternal is an old saying, but whoever said it never had any dealings with the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania legislature, which has already signaled it has a closed mind when it comes to giving any more money to Philadelphia schools.  “It makes it very difficult to take any request from Philadelphia seriously when they do nothing that appears to help themselves – and then they negotiate a contract which they admit is based on fantasy,” said Steve Miskin, spokesman for House Republicans.  That ridiculous statement ignores the additional $70 million the city began giving the School District two years ago, the $100 million in reduced interest costs the district achieved by refinancing its debt, the closure of 24 schools, and the decimation of the central office staff and other layoffs that were made to make ends meet.
The last thing state legislators ought to do is talk about someone else shirking their responsibility to properly fund schools. Pennsylvania ranks 45th in the nation in funding public education. That may be OK for affluent districts that can afford to fill the gap, but it’s not good for most districts, especially Philadelphia’s.

Superintendent Hite discusses tenure, year’s accomplishments
Philly Trib by Ryanne Persinger Tribune Staff Writer June 20, 2017
As the school year wraps up Tuesday for students within the School District of Philadelphia, Superintendent William R. Hite reflected on the past year and his five-year tenure over the largest school district in the Commonwealth.  Hite, who enters his sixth year with the District this fall, cited significant growth for some schools in the 2015-16 school year — the most recent year for which data available — and pointed to improvement across the district in the area of school climate, which reflects the safety and culture of a school’s environment.  But perhaps his biggest accomplishment came with the signing of a new agreement with the district’s teachers, who went five years without a contract.  “My top priority this school year has been to get a contract with the PFT (Philadelphia Federation of Teachers) that recognizes the hard work of teachers and school staff,” Hite said in a statement immediately following the announcement of an agreement on Friday.  He added, “Teachers and school staff are at the heart of our work to create great schools close to where children live. They have supported students through the district’s difficult financial times and they are crucial to the progress we are making in schools across the city.”

Bill to increase transparency in school district hiring passes state Senate
Beaver County Times By J.D. Prose June 20, 2017
Pennsylvania school boards would have to publicize any employment offers to superintendents and other administrators for two weeks before voting on contracts under a  Fayette County legislator's bill that passed the state Senate on Monday.  Spurred by a scathing state auditor general’s report on the Connellsville Area School District, Republican state Sen. Pat Stefano initially introduced his bill in March 2016, but it did not get out of committee.  Stefano then reintroduced the legislation as Senate Bill 592 this past April. It passed the Senate on Monday in a 36-14 vote, with state Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-46, Carroll Township, Washington County, joining 13 Democrats in opposing the bill.  Under the bill, school boards would have to post contract terms, including salary and length of contract, on its website for the public to review before hiring superintendents, assistant superintendents, associate superintendents and principals.

“This is idiocy. It’s also entirely unrealistic in the ESSA era. It arises from the view—long since dismissed by every respectable economist—that education is a private good and the public has no interest in an educated citizenry. Once you conclude that education is also a public good—one whose results bear powerfully on our prosperity, our safety, our culture, our governance, and our civic life—you have to recognize that voters and taxpayers have a compelling interest in whether kids are learning what they should, at least in schools that call themselves “public.” 
Finn Backs Accountability-- Hard
Curmuducation Blog by Peter Greene Tuesday, June 20, 2017
he Great Divide in the reform world continues to be right along the lines of accountability, with DeVos and her DeVotees being pretty much against it in any meaningful sense. Just let the marketplace sort it out, they say, and Jeanne Allen, of the Center for Education Reform (a hard core charter-backing group), put together a whole book to help argue the point.  Several folks have taken a shot at reviewing that tome. I'm not one of them (because I have two week old twins at my house), but here's a good look at parts of the work by Mercedes Schneider. And here's a review by Chester Finn, head honcho emeritus of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a reliable backer of education reform, and a guy I generally disagree with (just search his name on this blog).   So let me mark this occasion on which I not only agree with part of what Finn has written, but would gladly written it myself. Finn first sums up the notion that "the market will provide all the quality control that’s necessary. Quality is in the eye of the beholder, i.e., the parent—and the school operator. The heck with school outcomes." And then he unloads this paragraph:

Apply Now for EPLC's 2017-2018 PA Education Policy Fellowship Program!
Education Policy and Leadership Center
Applications are available now for the 2017-2018 Education Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP).  The Education Policy Fellowship Program is sponsored in Pennsylvania by The Education Policy and Leadership Center (EPLC). Click here for the program calendar of sessions.  With more than 500 graduates in its first eighteen years, this Program is a premier professional development opportunity for educators, state and local policymakers, advocates, and community leaders.  State Board of Accountancy (SBA) credits are available to certified public accountants. Past participants include state policymakers, district superintendents and principals, school business officers, school board members, education deans/chairs, statewide association leaders, parent leaders, education advocates, and other education and community leaders. Fellows are typically sponsored by their employer or another organization.  The Fellowship Program begins with a two-day retreat on September 14-15, 2017 and continues to graduation in June 2018.

The Timothy M. Allwein Advocacy Award was established in 2011 by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association and may be presented annually to the individual school director or entire school board to recognize outstanding leadership in legislative advocacy efforts on behalf of public education and students that are consistent with the positions in PSBA’s Legislative Platform.  In addition to being a highly respected lobbyist, Timothy Allwein served to help our members be effective advocates in their own right. Many have said that Tim inspired them to become active in our Legislative Action Program and to develop personal working relationships with their legislators.  The 2017 Allwein Award nomination process will begin on Monday, May 15, 2017. The application due date is July 16, 2017 in the honor of Tim’s birth date of July 16.

Pennsylvania Education Leadership Summit July 23-25, 2017 Blair County Convention Center - Altoona
A three-day event providing an excellent opportunity for school district administrative teams and instructional leaders to learn, share and plan together
co-sponsored by PASA, the Pennsylvania Principals Association, PASCD and the PA Association for Middle Level Education
**REGISTRATION IS OPEN**Early Bird Registration Ends after April 30!
Keynote speakers, high quality breakout sessions, table talks on hot topics, and district team planning and job-alike sessions will provide practical ideas that can be immediately reviewed and discussed at the summit and utilized at the district level.
Keynote Speakers:
Thomas Murray
, Director of Innovation for Future Ready Schools, a project of the Alliance for Excellent Education
Kristen Swanson, Director of Learning at Slack and one of the founding members of the Edcamp movement 
Breakout session strands:
*Strategic/Cultural Leadership
*Systems Leadership
*Leadership for Learning
*Professional and Community Leadership 
CLICK HERE to access the Summit website for program, hotel and registration information.

Save the Date 2017 PA Principals Association State Conference October 14. 15, 16, 2017
Doubletree Hotel Cranberry Township, PA

Save the Date: PASA-PSBA School Leadership Conference October 18-20, Hershey PA

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