So far, AGSD is managing without subsidies from the state
● By Steven Hoffman
Gov. Tom Wolf and state lawmakers failed to finalize a budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year before the June 30 deadline. More than 100 days have passed since then, and there’s still no end to the budget impasse in sight.
While most state business continues to operate as usual, the absence of a spending plan has delayed state subsidies for school districts and payments for other social services.
At a recent meeting, Avon Grove School District officials discussed the impact that the funding delays are having on the school district. So far, the news isn’t terrible in Avon Grove.
“Luckily, we are in good financial shape and we will be able to weather this in the short-term,” school board president Brian Gaerity said.
Gaerity read an email update from State Rep. John Lawrence about the budget situation. The State House passed a bill that would have served as a stopgap measure and would have allowed for some disbursements to schools. But Wolf vetoed the bill after it passed both the State House and State Senate.
Gaerity lauded Lawrence for keeping district officials informed about the status of the state budget so that they could make the best decisions possible about their own budgetary issues.
Some school districts across the state have already sought loans to continue to operate. Other school districts have made the decision to not may payments to charter schools since the money that would be used to make those payments comes out of the state subsidies.
Avon Grove officials, however, decided that the district would continue to make the payments to all the charter schools where Avon Grove students attend for as long it can. Charter schools are public schools that receive funding from the state and on a per-pupil basis from the home school district of each student.
“We felt that it was our obligation to pay the local portion to the charter schools,” Gaerity explained.
During his financial committee report, school board member William Sites said that as district officials start the preliminary work on the budget for 2016-17, the Act 1 Index limit will be about 2.8 percent or 2.9 percent when adjustments for Avon Grove are factored in. The Act 1 Index limits how much a school district can raise taxes without seeking approval from voters.
Kristen Bishop, the interim head of school at the Avon Grove Charter School, made the annual report to the Avon Grove School Board. Bishop explained that the current school year is the 14th year for the charter school, and there are now nearly 1,700 students who attend the charter school in its two buildings. There were 69 graduates for the 2014-15 school year, and the charter school’s graduation rate was nearly 96 percent, Bishop said.
Bishop said that one of the major endeavors for the charter school is to align the curriculum with PA Common Core Standards, something that public schools throughout the state are doing.
The charter school is also participating in Project Lead the Way, and is focusing extensively on offering STEM programming to students.
High school principal Scott DeShong and a handful of students led a presentation about creating a media studio and STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Arts and Math) lab. In the STEAM lab, students are learning about everything from game designing to audio engineering to computer-aided drafting.
DeShong said that this program allows a diverse group of students to collaborate on real-world problems, and to use technology to find solutions to those problems. The students did a live broadcast of Homecoming activities, and they’ve already started accumulating video-on-demand programs on AGtv, which is available through the high school’s website.
“This is a huge step forward for Avon Grove,” said school board president Brian Gaerity. “It’s really exciting to see.”