Editorial: Penn Hills can’t depend on state money
Good for the taxpayers of Penn Hills.
The highly troubled school district is getting a $3.3 million cash injection from the state on top of the regular annual contribution all districts receive.
State Sen. Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, helped Penn Hills get the extra money from the Department of Education. It follows $4 million in lifelines the state has already thrown the district over the past two years.
And let’s be clear — the ones being rescued are those taxpayers, and they need someone to save them from the district’s alarming mismanagement.
Penn Hills was about to have a 6.69% tax increase. That would have been an additional $144 a year on a house assessed at $75,000. That’s a lot to have tacked on unexpectedly to a bill some already struggle to pay. The district has among the highest millage rates in the region.
It won’t just save money. It will save jobs. Six teachers and a specialist furloughed in June will be brought back, according to board President Erin Vecchio, who called it a “great day for Penn Hills.”
Almost. It’s not a great day. It’s a better day. The school district is still $172 million in debt, about double the annual budget.
Coincidentally, that’s exactly the same as the budget for Kevin Costner’s “Waterworld,” roundly regarded as one of worst expenditures of money in Hollywood history — and that was in 1995.
Penn Hills didn’t spend that money on a post-apocalyptic catastrophe epic. It was spent on an epic construction project that has had catastrophic effects, including a grand jury being called to decide whether carelessness called both “inexcusable” and an “economic ruin” was also criminal.
No charges were filed, but the state has placed the district in “financial recovery status” and appointed Daniel Matsook as chief recovery officer to enact a plan that would right the ship for Penn Hills, where the debt has ballooned as enrollment has dropped.
State money poured into the district’s leaking sieve will help in the short run, but for how long is Costa going to be able to secure that? Plenty of school districts could benefit from that kind of help to overcome problems that weren’t created in-house.
And state money isn’t the state’s money. It’s Pittsburgh and Arnold and Greensburg and Norwin and everyone else’s money, poured into the state coffers. It is right to use it to help, but it can’t be taken for granted.
The taxpayers are surely grateful. But Penn Hills leadership needs to stop depending on the kindness of neighbors.