About $8 million in state funding is being released to the Corry Area School District today, and although that is good news, along with it comes a notice to expect a decrease in a key spending area.
According to a state report that was issued to CASD last week after Gov. Tom Wolf agreed to release funds to public school districts despite the continuing budget crisis, Corry is expected to receive a $250,000 decrease in its basic education funding and ready to learn block grant.
"We were certainly hoping for a bigger amount," said CASD Business Manager Mike Andrus. "Basic education funding is the largest pot of money the school district receives and it is applied to everything and anything."
Ready to learn block grant funds are spent similarly to the basic education funding, however, the state has outlined key areas the money should be used for, such as early childhood education, improving test scores and hiring teachers.
The news comes at the same time public schools are being asked by the state to adopt a state index of 3.6 percent, which would prevent districts from raising taxes beyond that percentage during the upcoming budget process.
"For us, that is about $200,000," Andrus said during Monday night's school board meeting. "That's all we have to play with for local taxes."
Board member Joe Frisina publicly expressed his frustration with the state before the board adopted the state index budget resolution.
"It's hard for us to sit up here and approve that when the budget is so unsettled from seven months ago, we don't even know if we are getting enough money to cover our expenses this year," Frisina said. "That's unreal that they make us do this and they haven't done their job. They change the rules. Their time frame is the same as ours, adopt a budget by June 30 or get penalized. But they don't."
With today's payment from the state, Corry will have received about 80 percent of what the state will end up paying for the 2015-16 school year. When the next payment will arrive is still unknown.
"There are so many unknowns and lots of fighting (in Harrisburg)," Andrus said. "Depending on when the final budget will be approved, there could be a bigger chunk of money on the table for school districts, but which option reaches the final passage is yet to be seen."
Wolf has reportedly been a big supporter of increasing funding to public schools, much to the disagreement of Republican legislators. That issue still needs to be addressed as the seven-month budget standoff continues.
If the school does not receive the remaining 20 percent by the end of the year, Andrus said they have enough cash to finish the school year.
"Some school districts are worried that they won't be able to get through the next month even with this payment," he said. "But we will easily be able to finish the school year."
CASD Superintendent Bill Nichols said the district continues to be careful with its spending.
"We have been holding off on purchases and we will continue to do that," he said. "We will continue to watch things closely because we still don't know what our final number will be."
Andrus is hoping the numbers will increase.
"If this estimate is an indication of the future, we are in trouble," Andrus said. "This is not enough to cover our expenses and be restricted to a 3.6 percent tax increase. There is no way we are going to be able to keep up with costs."