SCRANTON -- The Scranton School Board approved a tentative budget for the 2018 school year.
That $157 million budget calls for the layoffs of 89 teachers in specialty programs and still contains a nearly $4 million deficit.
Thursday night, there was a large turnout of some very unhappy parents, students, and staff at the board meeting.
Still, the board told the crowd that this was only a tentative budget and that due to the district being under financial watch by the state, it was given an extension of three months, meaning the board has to come up with a balanced budget by March 31, 2018.
But even hearing that news didn’t make anyone happy.
“I would just like to know, all of you listen to the radio correct?” Scranton Senior Josh Radford asked the school board. “That's music, why would you want to cut that away from us?”
One after the other, parents, students and staff in the Scranton School District made their last-ditch plea to the school board to not pass an extremely unpopular budget.
“You want to cut art, music and teachers` jobs and all you want to do is put a band-aid up,” said Tom Miller.
That budget calls for the layoffs of 89 staff members, many teachers in specialty programs such as music, art, special education and physical education.
“These people, they belong to my union and they have brothers and sisters throughout the state and we will stand together,” said Rosemary Boland, the president of the Scranton Federation of Teachers Union.
The district had been facing a nearly $19 million shortfall in its 2018 spending plan but with those cuts to staff and an infusion of $2 million of state money it was able to get the deficit down to $3.5 million.
“I can't help to think that our children that we teach did not create this debt and yet, I still think that they are being punished for it,” said teacher Roberta Jadick as the auditorium erupted into applause. “I said it at the last meeting.”
Despite the backlash, all nine members approved the $157 million budget.
But the board told the crowd this budget is a tentative one and could change in the next three months.
Typically, the school board has to approve its budget by December 31 but because it is on financial watch by the state it was given until the end of March to come up with a balanced spending plan.
“You've been given time by the state to fix the problem. take your time, go line by line and figure out the solutions,” said Ryan Hnat, who teaches art at Armstrong Elementary School.
This tentative budget does include a tax increase with the average homeowner paying an additional $47 per year.
STATEMENT FROM SCRANTON SCHOOL DISTRICT
This evening the Scranton School Board passed a Proposed Budget for 2018. With passage of this proposed budget, the Scranton School District now has ninety additional days to take a closer look at options and work through scenarios in order to pass a final, balanced budget by April 1, 2018.
This ongoing budget process is critical for the District as it seeks to achieve sustainable finances and meet the Board’s ultimate mission of providing excellent education to the children of Scranton. From speaking with a range of advisors, policymakers and veterans of districts with similar financial pictures, the Board understands that we must make difficult decisions in order to avoid ceding local control of the District.
There is not one Board Director that wants to see expenditure cuts to the District; however, it is up to the Board to take the responsible, necessary steps now to address the structural deficit and stave off what would be a painful receivership process. The Board acknowledges that errors were made in past years that contributed to part of the current deficit.
The Board’s Solicitor has publicly stated that there is ongoing litigation regarding some of these matters; for others, the Board and its Solicitor are exploring options to remedy past situations. The Solicitor is in direct contact with the District’s transportation providers; additionally, PFM is conducting a review of transportation contracts and will assist in identifying cost savings moving forward.
The ability of the Scranton School District to respond to and govern effectively through this crisis rests not just with this Board, but with the willingness of all stakeholders to come together to find solutions. The Board appreciates the concessions that many staff members and vendors have already made, and will continue to pursue savings from all entities with which we do business.
The Board looks forward to continuing to work with Superintendent Alexis Kirijan, the District administration, the Scranton Federation of Teachers, our PFM consultants and the Pennsylvania Department of Education in these critical ninety days ahead. Our success depends on a focused, united effort.