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Some Penn. Districts May Not Open After Christmas Due to State Budget Impasse

As budget talks drag on in Harrisburg without resolution, two Pennsylvania school districts say they may keep the doors closed after the Christmas break because their coffers are running dry.

The superintendent of the Greenville school district in western Pennsylvania told the Sharon Herald that that district has waited long enough, "but we're running out of money." Officials in another district, Sharpsville, have also discussed keeping schools closed after the break, the paper said. 

Those two districts are not the only ones feeling the weight from the logjam in Harrisburg.  Last week, the Scranton school district went to court to ask a judge to approve a $3.2 million loan so that it could repay some tax anticipation notes. Without the loan, the district argued, it would default on the notes. The tax anticipation notes had been taken out to help the district pay employees.

Reuters reported on Wednesday that school districts across the state had borrowed about $900 million since July 1 to keep their doors open and educate children. If a budget is not passed by January, that kind of borrowing by the districts could top $1 billion, state auditor General Eugene DePasquale told the news agency.  

Our state education reporter, Daarel Burnette II, wrote last month about the heavy toll that the state budget impasse was having on school districts as the Republican-led legislature and the newly elected Gov. Tom Wolf wrangle over education funding. The budget has also been held up by disagreements over pension reform.

Greenville school board president told the Sharon Herald that the district gets about 60 percent of its budget from the state, and without any action by next week the school board will meet to decide whether to close instead of borrowing.

"It seems absolutely ridiculous that we're forced to go to banks for money," Dennis Webber, the school board president, said. "The bottom line is they (the state) have the money in their coffers. They're collecting sales tax from every business in the state of Pennsylvania."

School districts would get more money from a $30.8 billion budget plan the Senate passed on Monday. Another version passed House on Tuesday, the news agency reported. Talks are expected to continue on Thursday. 

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