Clocks ticking for ESD to make big decisions

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Audit finds school district could run out of funds soon_39769761

ERIE, Pa. — A new audit reveals that the Erie School District could run out of money in just a year. Meanwhile, Harrisburg remains quiet as the district waits to hear how much — if any — financial help it will get from the state.

Lawmakers say at this point it’s unrealistic to think the Erie School District will receive all of the $30 million that it requested from the state. The hope now being that it will at least get $10 million to balance the budget.

But if they don’t, what’s first to go to keep the district running?

Superintendent Jay Badams and current chief financial adviser, and soon to be superintendent, Brian Polito said they aren’t sure.

Polito said first, the district will need to reconfigure and consolidate. The district has 5,000 open seats right now, most at the secondary level.

Polito said the district needs to figure out how to reinvent itself and consolidate. As far as closing high schools, Polito says that would be the worst case scenario.

Another possibility that remains is consolidating sports programs, however that proposal has been put on hold.

Frank Petrungar, school board president, says, “If we consolidate, you’re going to end up, you know, the sports teams are going to consolidate as is. So we figured we would wait and see where we end up. There’s no deadline for that, so we can always go back to it.”

Polito said they can’t wait for the state to tell them how much funding they’ll get before making these decisions.

“Timing is an issue for us now,” he said. “We really need to start planning for next year, so we have to plan for the worst at this point. Looking at what cuts we would have to make to balance our budget for the 17-18 school year.”

Petrungar adds, “We really don’t want to cut anymore because it’s going to hurt our kids. So if we can do it through consolidation and maybe through some other stuff, that’s what we’re going to be looking at over the next few months or so.”

State Sen. Dan Laughlin believes that the amount Erie gets will be part of budget negotiations and in the end will be a line in the state budget. That budget is not due until June 30.

Laughlin is hopeful that the district will know before that.

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