Tina Viletto, Esq., outgoing board president in the School District of Cheltenham Township (Montgomery County) and a member of the 2013 Pennsylvania School Board Associations’ Board of Directors, testified before the House Education Committee on the need to allow economic furlough as a management tool for school districts.
Currently, Pennsylvania’s School Code does not allow school districts to furlough professional employees as part of the budget balancing process. Districts only may furlough staff when there is a substantial decrease in student enrollment or by eliminating an entire program of study. This puts programs such as foreign languages, art, music, band, computer sciences and other non-core academic programs, which are not mandated, in danger of being cut when no other options are available to balance a budget.
“The ability to furlough professional employees, as well as other measures that provide mandate relief and flexibility to school districts, will give school boards additional options to consider in difficult economic times,” Viletto said.
School districts are facing a number of financial challenges out of their control, including declining local property tax revenue as a result of decreased property values, rising health care and pension costs, growing charter school tuitions and increased special education costs.
“The financial challenges created by such factors require public schools to make tough budgetary decisions including the most effective use of school personnel,” Viletto added.
With approximately 63 percent of a school district’s budget going toward employee salaries and benefits, Viletto argued that districts must be given the flexibility to make personnel decisions without a drop in student enrollment or being forced to cut entire programs.
When districts do meet the requirements of the law and are able to furlough staff, currently they must do so on a “last in-first out” process based solely on seniority without regard to teacher performance or student needs or what makes the most sense for the programs offered.
“In all respects,” Viletto said, “such a mandate is arbitrary and has led to inconsistent educational results for students. Allowing these staff reductions based on criteria such as performance, certification, and qualification to teach a particular grade or subject, rather than solely on seniority, ensures that the educational program can continue with the best qualified individuals.”
Viletto spoke in support of several pieces of legislation currently being considered, including HB 779 (Rep. Seth Grove) and HB 1722 (Rep. Tim Krieger), both of which address many of the concerns of the association’s members.
PSBA is a nonprofit statewide association of public school boards, pledged to the highest ideals of local lay leadership for the public schools of the commonwealth. Founded in 1895, PSBA was the first school boards association established in the United States.