Pattye Benson

Community Matters

The Money is Running Out for Some Pennsylvania School Districts . . . Can they keep their doors open?

One school district in crisis . . . can others be far behind?

The Duquesne School District is located in Allegheny County, a suburb of Pittsburgh. A former steel mill town, Duquesne is no newcomer to hard times. The last couple of decades the population in this cash-strapped community has steadily declined.

In the age of Big Steel, towns like Duquesne, Pennsylvania were the backbone of America’s industrial might . . . a beacon for thousands of immigrants looking for a better life. But that was then . . . this is now. Once a booming steel mill town, Duquesne began its downward economic spiral in 1985 with the closure of a U.S. Steel facility. The largest employer in town, U.S. Steel provided a steady tax base and, more importantly, jobs for the hundreds of kids coming out of Duquesne High School each year. The plant closed and with its closure, so went the jobs. Unemployment figures soared, economic decline began and hope for the future has slowly disappeared.

In 2007, Duquesne’s only high school was forced to close . . . the school district can only afford to educate its young people in grades kindergarten through 8th grade. If you want a high school education, you must go to anther school district. The state declared the district financially distressed in 2000.

Fast forward to 2011 and Corbett’s proposed massive public education funding cuts; what does it mean for the future of Duquesne and its children? U.S. Steel decided it was no longer profitable to keep its doors open in Duquesne but the school district does not have that option. For the record, currently Duquesne School District relies on $11 million of its $14 million budget from state funding. Corbett’s proposed budget will mean a loss of $2,000 in state funding per student in the Duquesne School District where more than half of the students are from low-income families. Raising property taxes in this cash-strapped district is not an option.

Declining tax bases in some areas of the state are forcing those school districts to the edge. As other school districts across Pennsylvania struggle to keep foreign languages and the arts in their curriculum, Duquesne School District fights just to keep their doors open. The Duquesne School District’s proposed ‘bare bones’ budget for 2011-12 includes the elimination of 35 teaching jobs, freezing salaries and increasing class sizes to 23-to-26 students per class. Their pared down program includes no academic coaches, no tutoring, no field trips, no sports teams or no extra-curricular activities. Is this skeleton programming a sufficient education?

If there is no change to the proposed state budget cuts to public education, Duquesne School District may have to close its remaining school doors. Duquesne School District is but an example of a Pennsylvania school district on the brink of complete failure. But it does beg the question, can others be far behind?

It is important to look beyond our own backyard as we focus on the finances of our own school district and its budget deficit.

Share or Like:


Add a Comment
  1. I jest doan know whut tha fuss is all about! Why, when I wuz a yung shaver, we ‘haint got nuthin, and lookee how we turnt out! Jest fine, if ya aks me!

    We only got a one room skool howze, ‘an one tacher fer forty-six kids. Hell, all them kids today is jest spoilt rotten with their ceement ponds and corn-puters and sech like. Doan need none of it, so Guv Corbett is on the right trail, if ya aks me!

    Why, if’n a man knows how ta whang a rifle ball down tha barrel so she shoots strait, an knows whut ta do with a kilt dear, why, ‘haint that all he needs ta know?

    See? In case ya all doan know about satiree – well, jest let me say I is tha footure o’ Pennsilvania! Git used ta me . . . .

  2. According to their website the district “educates approximately 422 students in grades K-8 and employs about 114 professionals. Students in grades 9-12 attend either the East Allegheny or West Mifflin Area School Districts. ”

    This seems like a great opportunity to consolidate.

  3. Pattye,

    Why did you chose Duquesne?

    In addition to the oddity of low enrollment, they have high per student spending. In 2007-08 they spent $17,914 per student compared to TE’s $15,107. They were the 24th highest spending district out of 501 state districts.

    Did the website really say “422 students and about 114 professionals”?????

    A one to four ratio??

    It seems like Corbett is doing the right thing by cutting their spending to force consolidation.

  4. Duquesne may not be the right example, but this is a civil rights issue. If you read the Inquirer article on this, Corbett is cutting the most from districts who can afford the least. In New Jersey, poor parents sued the state and Christie is now dealing with a federal judge over the unequal treatment of these poor students. If I were the parent of a poor child in Pennsylvania I would do the same.
    I think any legislator who votes for the budget in this form ought to be pretty worried about next year’s election. The Tea Party may have been motivated to eviscerate the government in 2010. The moderates and the progressives won’t forget the Republicans who voted to kill food stamps for poor people and who decided that poor children should bear the brunt of this fiscal crisis. Shame! Shame! Shame!

  5. Consolidation not only makes sense, it should have started years ago. But PA is possibly the most parochial, territorial state I have ever lived in. WHY is there Tredyffrin and Easttown? Why is there TE/GV and — pick on — West Chester, Avon Grove, Unionville Chaddsford?
    One of the escalating costs of schools is the market demand for administrators. Consolidating districts has always made sense, but who makes the move, and who ends up on top? Tredyffrin refers to Easttown as the dead Siamese twin — saying they get away with fewer services because Tredyffrin has parks and little leagues and more. But of course, Tredyffrin also has 1% transfer tax and Easttown has 1/2%. Tredyffrin has industry / offices, and Easttown is predominantly residential.
    Why aren’t schools run by county as in so many other states? When Rendell posed this possibility during his final term, TE actually had a candidate run on opposing consolidation and protecting the proprietary system. The system that pays the TE superintendent $250K plus, the GV Superintendent $250K, the UCF about the same, and the WC about the same. Each district has a curriculum director for most major subjects….would it be so difficult to have that same person oversee 4 districts since it’s subject based?

    Just asking. But CO — you see consolidating as being a solution — how do you go about it? Does one system need to fail and be “taken over” by another? Should the TE board be meeting with the GV board to consider it? What are the logistical issues?

    One other point — there is at least one district in the state that does not have any schools — they contract out for the services. That’s where i think chartering itself is a viable consideration for TESD.

    1. I’m not a fan of consolidation.

      If consolidation is effective we’d expect larger school districts to spend less per student – economies of scale. When I plot the number of students vs. the expenditures per student for all 500 state district I see NO economies of scale once the district has about 1500 students. Maybe 50 districts could see some significant benefit from consolidation. It’s not a panacea.

      Also, I like local control of schools over county or state control. I like to know my school directors personally and be able to have my neighbors hold them accountable. If Lower Merion wants to spend, what I consider,a crazy amount of money on their students then so be it. If a few Lower Merion residents want to form a political action committee to decrease spending, wonderful. It’s much more difficult to influence change at the county or state level.

      Before we start calling for consolidation we’d better look closely at the data.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Community Matters © 2024 Frontier Theme