Tube City Almanac

April 28, 2011

District's Budget In Limbo; Spending Plan Coming in May


By Jennifer Sopko
Special to Tube City Almanac

A standing room only crowd of parents, teachers and staff packed the board room at the McKeesport Area School District administration building on Wednesday night, anxious to hear from the school board on the district's 2011-2012 budget crisis.

However, the board did not introduce a preliminary budget or reveal more details about potential staffing and program cuts intended to offset an estimated $5.6 million budget deficit, which includes an almost $4.4 million reduction in state education funding.

McKeesport Area Superintendent Tim Gabauer confirmed that the board plans to take action on a final budget at their May 25 meeting, after continuing to study student enrollment trends, current curriculum offerings and staffing needs, in order to "figure out what's in the best interest of the schools."

. . .

At an open agenda board meeting on April 18, Gabauer revealed that the district is considering more than 90 layoffs, including 45 non-contractual employees (substitutes and tutors), 35 teachers, ten support employees and four administrative positions.

On Wednesday night, the superintendent acknowledged that a "drastic" decline in student enrollment over the past five years would factor into these proposed staffing reductions, yet declined to give statistics before confirming enrollment data with the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

The school board unanimously agreed to apply for federal Title I and Title IIA funding and approved the use of Title I funds to maintain the approximately $450,000 all-day kindergarten program, if Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed budget is passed and the district loses a $1 million Accountability Block Grant.

. . .

Gabauer said that board approval was required to allocate this funding to a program other than its intended use, which is to fund supplementary educational programs for children of low-income families as prescribed under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

According to business manager David Seropian, MASD received $2.5 million in Title I funding for the 2010-2011 school year, but will not find out if this year's amount is reduced for at least another week.

Despite the negative budget outlook, Gabauer told the audience during his opening remarks that "our voices are being heard at the state level" and called for residents to advocate the importance of public education by contacting their state representatives and urging them to minimize the impact of the governor's proposed budget cuts.

"Public education is the best form of education that we have and we need to continue to advocate it because we educate all [students] to the best of our ability," he said.

. . .

One consolidated effort in the works is a "Rally for our Children's Education" scheduled for May 5 at 6:15 p.m. at the bandshell in Renziehausen Park, prior to a public town hall meeting with state representatives at 7 p.m. in the McKeesport Area High School auditorium.

Centennial Elementary kindergarten teacher Joan Burns said the crowd will march from the bandshell to the high school in order to convey a message to the governor and other state representatives that all children will be left behind if the proposed $2 billion education funding cuts are passed in the state budget.

"We're all in this together," said Burns. "It's not a union thing. It's not just a community thing. It's for the kids."

She added that all surrounding school districts are invited to the rally, with Sto-Rox, Steel Valley and Baldwin-Whitehall school districts planning to attend. Walkers are encouraged to wear red and bring bells or other noisemakers to the rally.

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