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Pennsylvania School Districts Make Stark Choices During Budget Impasse

The Pennsylvania budget crisis continues to force school districts to make desperate decisions to stay open.

Districts are spending down their reserves, taking out loans, cutting programs, and skimping on paying bills, according to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, which is compiling a list of school district's stories of financial hardship on its website.  One district is not even sure it will be able to make a multimillion-dollar bond payment and payroll on April 1, the association said. 

With the 2015-16 fiscal year ending in June, Pennsylvania still does not have a state budget. And schools districts are saying they are running out of options.

The budget dispute between the Republican-led legislature and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has affected a wide swath of the state, from farming to higher education.

The Chartiers-Houston district in Washington County, for example, will likely be dipping into its fund balance to make it through the school year if a budget deal is not struck. The district has already reduced field trips and teaching positions.

The Belle Vernon district in Westmoreland County reports that it will have to borrow another $3.1 million to cover its April 4 payroll.

In the Aliquippa school district, in Beaver County, after-school programs and sports are on the chopping block. The association says the district is on "the brink of financial collapse" because of the budget impasse.

And in the Corry Area school district, administrators are not ordering supplies for the next academic year and plan to borrow from the district's capital reserves to make it through the year.

The school boards association has sued the state, including the governor, education secretary, state treasurer, and the legislature for failing to fully fund education during the prolonged budget crisis.

Through the end of last year, school districts had borrowed nearly $1 billion to stay open, the state auditor has said.

Last week, the school boards association went to court to ask a judge to force the state to immediately pay the districts all federal and state subsidies that they had been owed but had not received. That matter is still before the Commonwealth Court. 

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