Three Phila.-area school districts get a funding break

Posted: June 28, 2012

School funding in the new Pennsylvania budget will likely be about the same as this year for most area districts, but three - Chester Upland, Coatesville, and Upper Darby - will get millions more, thanks to onetime special allocations added by legislators.

The news was greeted with cheers by the favored districts. Critics said a funding plan that singles out some for extra money while leaving out others in need is unfair.

Philadelphia, for example, which is nearing a financial meltdown, did not get any extra funding under the deal, announced Tuesday by legislative leaders.

Chester Upland, which almost went broke this school year and still owes about $30 million to creditors, will be getting about $9.7 million more than called for in the main state education funding formula. That's by far the largest amount statewide.

Delaware County's Upper Darby district will get $2 million more, and Chester County's Coatesville district will get a $1 million boost.

Basic Education Funding, at $5.4 billion the largest state allocation to districts, is calculated mainly based on school district enrollment and poverty levels.

Last year, many districts saw sizable cuts in the subsidy as federal dollars that had boosted past funding went away. This year, most districts will receive about what they got last year; the only sizable increase will be in pension funding.

But for the last two years, legislators have added infusions of Basic Education Fund money to selected districts, based on one-time special formulas that favor a few. The practice went on during the Rendell administration as well.

In addition to the three benefiting local districts, 18 others around the state will get extra money; the total for all 21 is about $40 million more than they would get otherwise. Some other big winners are Reading, Allentown, Harrisburg, Lancaster, and York City.

Last year, 14 school districts - some the same as this year and some different - got $29 million in extra funding. Chester Upland and Coatesville got the money both years; Upper Darby did not.

Chester Upland is scheduled to pass its 2012-13 budget plan Thursday. A proposed budget plan last month had a $9 million gap between revenues and expenditures. The prospects for a balanced budget and for the district's viability are "much better than they were a few days ago," Assistant Superintendent Thomas Persing said.

Upper Darby passed its 2012-13 budget Tuesday; business manager Edward Smith said the district would wait until final budget passage to decide what to do with the money. Upper Darby spent $4 million in savings to balance the budget.

Many residents were disappointed. They wanted a commitment that the funds would go to restore cuts in elementary arts, music, physical education, and library programs.

Coatesville will probably use its extra money to rebuild its savings account, Superintendent Richard Como said.

Last year, Delaware County's William Penn district, which has the second-highest school tax rate in the county and cut many programs in recent years to balance its budgets, got $217,000 in extra funding; this year, it got no added funds.

"It's not fair. . . . It's not right to play favorites like that," school board member Jennifer Hoff said. "We have the same financial issues as Upper Darby, perhaps worse. . . . It's like 'this child is better than that child.' "

Said William Penn business manager Joseph Otto: "You shouldn't be in a situation where you have to tweak things to give districts what they need, then leave others out in the cold."


Contact Dan Hardy at 601-313-8134 or dhardy@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @DanInq.

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