Excerpted fromJohn Guerriero,Erie Times-News
ERIE, Pa. — The state has worked with 31 other school districts so they can keep operating during the three-month state budget impasse, two state lawmakers from the Erie area said.
The Erie School District could be the 32nd, but the district hasn’t closed the door on other options that would include closing schools or asking employees to work without pay.
The Erie School Board on Monday gave Erie schools Superintendent Jay Badams the authority to close schools, if needed, as the impasse between the GOP-controlled Legislature and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf drags on.
Harkins said the office is eager to help, as it has done for 31 other districts. But Harkins said the office had encountered resistance from the district about borrowing money.
Harkins, a member of the House Education Committee, said a final budget agreement would reimburse districts that had to borrow money, including fees and interest. But he acknowledged the Legislature, with a GOP majority, would have to approve such a deal.
Bizzarro said the reimbursement can be factored into an appropriations bill when the parties negotiate school funding. “And it more than likely would happen,” he said.
Badams said he recently spoke with Secretary of the Budget Randy Albright, who told him that reimbursement “was not a guarantee, but an active part of the discussion.”
The fact the district might have to borrow at all is “ridiculous,” Badams said.
Even if the state reimburses the district, “Who will pay the ultimate cost of that interest? It won’t come out of local district coffers, it’ll come out of state coffers. It’s still taxpayer dollars being used to pay interest.”
Badams said he believes someone should push back against the notion that borrowing money is a solution for Erie and other school districts.
The district is exploring whether to borrow $30 million that administrators say it needs to continue operating through the end of this calendar year if the state budget is not passed by Oct. 2. If borrowing is not practical or possible, the district could ask employees to work on an I.O.U. basis or, as a last resort, shut down schools, Badams said.
Bizzarro called the possibility of closing schools or not paying employees “a scare tactic.” He added: “If you have other options out there, you don’t scare students, their families and employees with fear of disrupting their education or their employment.”
Badams responded: “It’s certainly not a scare tactic to say when the money’s gone, when the loan is gone, it’s gone. Then our options are to continue to work on the promises of an eventual payday or close the schools.”