Harrisburg Happenings: May 24, 2017

Category:  Harrisburg Happenings
Wednesday, May 24th, 2017 at 1:15 PM

As we move into June, the legislature is now focused on finalizing a state budget for the upcoming fiscal year that begins on July 1. We face many challenges in developing this spending plan, not the least of which is finding the financial means to address a potential $3 billion budgetary deficit in the coming year. That means the General Assembly must ensure that every tax dollar is spent wisely and responsibly.

Personally, as I have said many times, my top priority is making certain that a strong commitment to the children of the Erie School District is included as part of the final budget package. I am grateful that my colleague, Senate Education Committee Chair John Eichelberger, brought his committee to Erie on May 12. I requested that he do so in order to hear from local school and business officials and learn more about Erie School District’s financial crisis.

Prior to convening in the Central Career & Technical School library for the public hearing, members of the committee had the opportunity to visit our schools and see for themselves the less than acceptable conditions in those buildings.

The hearing opened with Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera, who gave an overview of the state’s funding to Erie and the other 499 school districts across the commonwealth. He also discussed the state’s rejection, earlier this year, of Erie School District’s proposed financial recovery plan.

Next, the Education Committee heard from Erie School District officials: Superintendent Jay Badams, Chief Financial Officer Brian Polito, and School Board President Frank Petrungar, Jr. They detailed the history of the district’s financial situation, the efforts now underway, and those planned for the future to address the funding crisis. The panel explained the many belt-tightening measures taken by the school district as it tries to make do with the resources it has available.

Following that segment of the hearing, Jim Ohrn, vice president and chief financial officer for Custom Engineering Co., and Charles Hagerty, chief development officer for Hamot Health Foundation, provided views on the Erie business community.

Closing out the hearing was a discussion with a panel of superintendents from three other Erie County school districts: Richard Scaletta, General McLane School District; William Hall, Millcreek Township School District; and Shane Murray, Iroquois School District. Each talked about the financial issues facing their districts and the increased burdens they would incur if they must accept displaced students from the Erie School District.

All told, this was a very frank and informative hearing. I believe the Education Committee members came away with a much better and deeper understanding of the Erie School District’s financial issues.

I certainly appreciate Senator Eichelberger’s willingness to give our local officials this forum to present a case for increased state support for the Erie School District.

I encourage everyone to watch the video of the Education Committee’s hearing that is posted on my website, senatorlaughlin.com. My website and my Facebook page, facebook.com/senatorlaughlin/, are also good resources for constituents to use as a way to keep up to date with state government news – including the state budget – and learn more about state services and agencies.

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