Target 11 Investigator Rick Earle spent the past several weeks visiting school districts and talking with administrators and parents to see how state budget cuts are affecting school districts. Here’s what Rick discovered.
At Keystone Oaks School District, the classrooms are empty but they will soon be packed with students.
“We have middle school classes at 30 or above 30 students. We are looking at larger class sizes all across the district," Keystone Oaks Superintendent Bill Urbanek told Earle.
The larger class sizes is because 21 teachers are retiring. Because of state budget cuts the district only had enough money to replace two of them.
It’s a common theme being played out in schools in The Pittsburgh area and across the state. Districts are laying off teachers, cutting programs, charging fees for extra-circular activities and raising taxes.
Here's a look at how some districts are dealing with the funding cuts.
In the Bethel Park School District, they’ve eliminated the summer reading academy, the China Experience class, third-grade strings and fifth-grade introduction to foreign language.
In the North Allegheny School District, 13 special education assistants have been let go. They’ve also implemented a pay freeze and students who play sports or participate in other extra –curricular activities must now pay between $25 and $75.
The Highlands School District in Natrona Heights considered a host of options to deal with the budget cuts. One of them was pay to play but the district decided not to implement the fee.
“We're trying to increase participation for our kids and that would have probably had an impact,” said Highlands Superintendent Joe Latess.
The district did furlough 22 teachers and staff and consolidated some schools. But they didn’t have to cut any programs, thanks in large part to a controversial tax hike.
Resident Rita McTighe, who is also a teacher in another district, said she understands the importance of a good school district.
“Education is so important. As a teacher I Know that, but as a homeowner it hurts. It does, but I’d rather live in a good school district than not, so I will pay it,” said McTighe.
And in an effort to cut more costs and bring in some cash, the district plans to relocate its administrative offices to the high school, and sell the building and property that now houses the superintendent’s office and other administrative functions.
Back at the Keystone Oaks district, the superintendent said it’s been a difficult summer trying to make ends meet.
“This is the first time I’ve see so many people look at things so closely and make such painful cuts and agonize over making those types of cuts,” said Urbanek.
Despite the loss of state funds, Keystone Oaks found a way to keep all of its programs intact. But the superintendent told Earle that he now wonders what the future holds for the 501 school districts across the state, especially smaller ones like Keystone Oaks that have seen a dramatic decline in students from 5,000 in the 1970s to 2,000 today.
“Ultimately you are going to look at a Commonwealth that has some number less then 5OO. It just makes sense. There are schools much smaller than us and speaking with those Superintendents they scratch their heads as well. How much longer are we going to be able to survive?” said Urbanek, who even considered going to a four day week, but said he’s not had enough time to study the impact because of an ongoing school consolidation controversy.