LIMERICK Twp., Pa.(CBS) — Along the 422 corridor in Philadelphia’s western suburbs, farmland has been sprouting with new homes, shopping centers and pharmaceutical hubs for over a decade. So money has not really been a problem in most of the local school districts, until now.
“We have never seen anything like this in my experience in this district,” said Dr. Marsha Hurda, superintendent in the Spring-Ford Area School District, which covers Limerick and Upper Providence Townships and the Boroughs of Royersford and Spring City. “If you’ve never had any experience dealing with it, you don’t have anything to go back to.”
As the real estate market has dropped, a number of big commercial properties in this district, including the sprawling GlaxoSmithKline campus in Collegeville, have asked for new, lower tax assessments. That has led to a budget deficit that stood at $10 million dollars on Tuesday morning in a budget of about $130 million. It’s a sizeable sum, but it could get even worse.
“By the end of the day I may have a $12-14 million deficit, and I have no control over it. None at all,” Dr. Hurda told Eyewitness News.
In the budget he unveiled Tuesday morning, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett has proposed cutting state aid to local school districts by $550 million next year. That’s roughly a 10 percent cut across the board, which could translate into the loss of $2 million more for Spring-Ford. Districts everywhere across the Pennsylvania suburbs are facing a similar problem. Governor Corbett says the cuts are needed because the state simply doesn’t have the money.
Governor Corbett says Pennsylvania’s 501 school districts can save $400 million next year if all public school employees agree to pay freezes.
Dr. Hurda says Gov. Corbett’s state budget may not include any new taxes, but there will likely be tax increases at the local level. That’s one of the options on the table at Spring-Ford, which is also considering program cuts and possibly a charge for athletics and other extra-curricular activities.
“You’re reassessing every function of a school district,” Dr. Hurda said. “How do we do business? What was the old norm, and what’s the new norm? You have to balance the needs of your students with the ability of your community to pay.”
And the governor’s education cuts could extend beyond the 12th grade. He’s also proposed dropping $625 million from higher education support. That amounts to a 50 percent cut for the 14 state-owned universities and the four state-related schools (Penn State, Temple, Pitt and Lincoln University).
At Temple, it could mean a loss of $80-90 million next year. A spokesman said it’s too soon to tell if that will mean a tuition increase, but Temple President Ann Weaver Hart is already imploring students to lobby against the cuts.
“I am asking each and every one of you to take action and play a vital role in communicating with our elected officials about the importance of commonwealth support for Temple University and higher education,” she said.
Reported by Ben Simmoneau, CBS 3