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Mon Valley school officials glad governor didn't cut funding

| Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013, 12:52 a.m.

State funding for education has been so troublesome in recent years that a proposal that doesn't cut funding was cause for celebration among local school administrators.

“I'm happy (Gov. Tom Corbett's) maintaining, and we're not going to look at another year of cuts,” said Dr. Karen Polkabla, Ringgold School District superintendent.

Modest increases in funding for the 2013-14 school year proposed by Corbett this week have left area school officials wanting more.

Polkabla noted that the Education Assistance Program, last included in the 2011-12 state budget, is missing in the proposed budget. She said Ringgold used money from that program for an after-school tutoring program.

Basic education subsidy levels for this year and next for local districts is as follows:

• Belle Vernon Area – 2012-13, $9,161,937; 2013-14, $9,326,126.

•Bentworth – $6,005,323; $6,088,614.

• California Area – $5,607,648; $5,671,649.

• Charleroi Area – $7,279,526; $7,402,714.

• Elizabeth Forward – $8,783,647; $8,944,310.

• Frazier – $6,581,004; $6,662,366.

•Monessen – $5,852,682; $5,923,556.

•Ringgold – $12,098,545; $12,287,150.

• Yough – $9,285,446; $9,427,300.

While basic education funding rose by about 1.25 percent to 1.5 percent per district, funding for special education and transportation declined for most districts.

“We'd receive about the same as last year, which is downright awful,” Monessen School District Superintendent Linda Marcolini said.

“He cut us about $3,000 in special education funding. We need a lot more money than that.”

Marcolini said the governor's proposed budget “leaves us scraping, just like we've been doing.”

“We're going to do the best job we can do, like we always do,” Marcolini said.

Charleroi Area Superintendent Dr. Brad Ferko said he was excited by the increase – which is comparable to the revenue generated by 2 mills in real estate tax.

Ferko said he was pleased to see the Accountability Block Grant retained, even though funding for it did not increase.

“I'm disappointed that special education was level funded,” Ferko said. “I wish it would have been an increase, based on some of the new programs we've added.”

He also questioned new evaluation programs for staff members, such as the teacher effectiveness, principal leadership effectiveness, and educator specialists effectiveness testing.

“I'm all for accountability for our staff,” Ferko said. “But there's way too many questions out there regarding these programs. I think it's a mixed bag budget for me.

“I'm glad there are some improvements in funding and some increases, but I still think the state has not lived up to its obligation for special education.”

Elizabeth Forward Superintendent Dr. Bart Rocco noted that while the district would realize a modest increase in overall funding, much of it is tied to pension costs.

“I have a lot of questions about proposed programs,” Rocco said. “ I have concerns that some of these things – these block grants – are tied to the sale of the liquor stores. It's a four-year block grant, but that's all dependant on whether or not the sale of the liquor stores occurs.”

Belle Vernon Area Superintendent Dr. John Wilkinson summed up the budget proposal by stating, “No problems were solved.”

“We're still pretty much in the same situation,” Wilkinson said. “We just have to count every paper clip and every pencil we have – and support the kids – for the next year.”

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or cbuckley@tribweb.com.

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