State budget restores $400K to Kennett schools funding

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Still, tough times loom with district seeing nearly $3 million in revenue losses between lower tax collections and state cuts

Although the Kennett Conolodated School District is getting about $400,000 more than proposed by Gov. Tom Corbett, a net loss of state funding of $1.4 million for the 2011-12 school year could mean challenging times are ahead.

By Mike McGann, Editor,
The state budget is done, and on time.

And while that might be a break in tradition from the last eight years, there seems to be a mixed reaction as to the impact on the Kennett area — although the budget signed by Gov. Tom Corbett Thursday night appears to restore about $400,000 to the Kennett Consolidated School District, it still means about $1.4 million less in state aid for local schools than in the previous budget.

With a $4.2 billion state budget deficit and the end of federal stimulus funds to Pennsylvania, though, it was clear that cuts were going to be wide and deep, as Corbett pledged not to raise taxes. The 2011-12 budget, while cutting less from school aid, still came in under the governor’s $27.3 billion limit — topping out at about at between $27.2 billion and $27.15 billion.

“This is a remarkable break from past budgeting decisions,” said state Sen. Dominic Pileggi (R-9), who represents the the three municipalities of the Kennett area: Kennett Square, Kennett Township and New Graden and is the state Senate Majority Leader, and played a key role in negotiating the final budget provisions. “In prior decades, the first instinct was to raise taxes, not to make the difficult decisions necessary for government to live within its means.”

Democrats, virtually all of whom opposed the budget, decried the cuts to education funding and social services. State Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D-19) who represents communities in the north-central portion of Chester County, including parts of neighboring Unionville and Coatesville, expressed concerns about the new budget’s impact, but felt the legislature’s version of the budget was less damaging than what the governor proposed.

“Even with these restored funds, school districts will still be hurting, but they won’t be devastated as they would have been under the governor’s March budget,” Dinniman said. “I am very happy that the legislators want to increase funding for education over what the governor wanted to spend, because every dollar in increased state funding means one less dollar in property taxes.

“I’m not saying this proposed education budget is perfect; I’m not saying it shouldn’t include more state funding,” Dinniman said. “But it sure is a lot better than what we started with.”

Dr. Barry Tomasetti, Superintendent of Schools for the Kennett Consolidated School District, while not in celebratory mood, suggested the changes from Corbett’s original proposal leave the district in better shape than was originally feared. For one, it means less funds for the new budget year will to be taken out of the fund balance — the district’s fiscal reserve — a move that could have had fiscal implications for the 2012-13 school year and beyond.

“I think it will help,” he said. “And it is significant.”

Unfortunately, Tomasetti said, he thinks that more difficult decisions will have to be made in the coming years. Thanks to less state funding, reduced transfer taxes and real estate property re-evaluations, the district is taking in less money at the same tax rates, somewhere between $1.6 and $1.7 million in lost revenue. Couple that with the loss of state funding of about $1.4 million, and the district is losing about $3 million in revenue in the 2011-12 budget year.

“I think we all have to brace ourselves,” he said. “We’re hoping it gets better, but we have to be prepared for it to get worse.”

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