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Brentwood School District to borrow money, citing state budget impasse

| Tuesday, March 1, 2016, 8:21 p.m.

Brentwood Borough School District will be out of money by the end of May — barring “a miracle” or passage of the state budget, Superintendent Amy Burch said.

Eight months have passed with no state budget for 2015-16, and Brentwood, like many school districts across the commonwealth, is feeling the financial squeeze, Burch said.

The district has banned outside spending, cut purchases of desks and is closely monitoring all other purchases.

Yet, just paying the bills will drain the $3.5 million fund balance that the district had June 30. The district anticipated only using $983,000 from its reserve during the 2015-16 school year.

“There needs to be accountability,” Burch said.

“School districts are required to meet deadlines or else we face penalties. Yet the Legislature was supposed to pass their budget in June. That never happened.”

Brentwood School District business manager Jennifer Pesanka is talking to banks about borrowing money to keep the district operating through the end of the 2015-16 school year and into 2016-17, since the state budget for next year was just presented, Burch said.

How much will the district borrow?

“In all honesty, I can't even give you a number,” Burch said.

That's because the district doesn't know how much it could get from the state for 2015-16, or 2016-17, or when that money might come, Burch said.

“I honestly still don't know what we're going to get for this school year,” she said.

Loans, too, are tricky, Burch said, because districts have to make sure they are not required to repay the money before the state passes its budget — something they don't have a timeframe for, Burch said.

Board members have repeatedly expressed their frustration with the lack of a state budget.

Burch is urging residents to contact their state representatives.

She did the same, showing how the budget impasse has harmed the school district.

In February, Brentwood school board agreed to withhold tuition payments to charter schools, totaling $26,000 a month.

The district either will be billed or have the money taken out of its basic education subsidy once state funding begins to be received again, Burch said.

The district's 2015-16 budget included receiving a projected $3.22 million from the state, Burch said.

Those numbers were loosely based on a budget presented by Gov. Tom Wolf for 2015-16.

The district, based on that proposal, anticipated receiving $4.6 million in basic education funding, $573,665 in PlanCon reimbursements for past construction projects and $65,000 a month for Social Security reimbursements.

The district's 2015-16 budget anticipated spending $21.4 million.

In December, some state funding was released to school districts. Yet, Brentwood only received about $2 million for basic education funding and zero for PlanCon reimbursements, Burch said.

Social Security reimbursements are two months behind.

Based on anticipated state funding, Brentwood School District still is owed $3.2 million from the state, Burch said.

Yet, depending on what funding is allotted in the state budget once passed, that number could change, she said.

Districts now are trying to craft budgets for 2016-17, Burch said.

But they still don't know what they're getting for 2015-16 from the state.

“It's so frustrating that school districts always find a way to make it work, because it's for the kids,” Burch said.

“I say the Legislature doesn't have the same interest in mind.”

Any purchase in Brentwood is reviewed with a simple requirement, she said: “Is it absolutely critical?”

The state Department of Education prepared a checklist for districts in case they have to close during the budget impasse.

That's not a route Burch said she's willing to go.

Instead, she's hoping residents will join her in seeking action from the Legislature.

“People need to make sure their voices are heard,” she said.

Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-388-5818 or shacke@tribweb.com.

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