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Erie School District seeks to sue state

ERIE, Pa. -- The Erie School District is considering legal action for more funding.

The public shared concerns over the district’s financial crisis at a regular board meeting at East High School on Wednesday night.

As a $10 million dollar budget deficit looms over the district, options and time are running out.

"We're in a situation, I think, locally that if we raise taxes any more than we already have, we'll create even more of a pressure for people to leave,” said Dr. Jay Badams, superintendent of Erie’s Public Schools.

Some previously proposed cuts should be off limits, according to Frank Petrungar, Jr., president of the school board.

"We really don't want to take any more from the kids. We certainly don't want to eliminate our police department. We need the safety."

The school board approved a resolution to pursue joining an existing lawsuit against state government for more funding.

In 2014, six school districts and several other plaintiffs brought the case before the Commonwealth Court claiming that Pennsylvania’s distribution of public school funding is unfair.

The following year, the Commonwealth Court dismissed the lawsuit. The plaintiffs appealed and the case is being reviewed by the state Supreme Court.

"I was actually at the Supreme Court hearing in September. I heard the arguments and I felt the plaintiffs or the appellants made a strong case,” said Badams.

He said that some school districts in wealthier communities receive more state funding than Erie, a school district that he believes has greater needs.

The district sought $31.8 million in additional funding from the state as part of its financial recovery plan; but on Feb. 27, Badams received notice of the plan’s rejection.

Irrespective of the new resolution, the district may not be able to join the lawsuit.

Badams said, "If the Supreme Court fails to remand it to the Commonwealth Court, then it's over and it'd take another lawsuit to move forward, but we're hopeful."

If not, they could opt to file their own suit.

"I think this board is committed to do whatever it takes to make sure that we achieve fairness for our children and for our citizens," he added.

The district is holding a "community listening tour" to discuss and receive feedback on the 2017-18 Budget Process and Building Reorganization Plan.

The schedule of meetings can be found at www.eriesd.org/reorganization/.

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