By Patty Long, Westmoreland County Schools
Westmoreland County Public Schools Superintendent, Dr. Rebecca S. Lowry, presented an informational program relating to the 2013-2014 budgets to the general public at Washington and Lee High School, December 11. The purpose of the program was to review where the school system is in terms of the planning process and what is anticipated to occur in terms of revenue from local, state and federal funds.
Chaired by School Board Vice-Chairman, Gernard Reed, the program began with a review of the budget accomplishments of the current school year. These included the purchase of five much-needed school buses, returning two assistant principal positions to the elementary schools and adding some critically needed instructional staff. The Board and Dr. Lowry thanked Westmoreland County administration and County Administrator Norm Risavi for all of their hard work and assistance with the budget. Also, the generous county contribution of paving the school and facility parking lots was noted. The county was able to pass a $.02 tax increase which supported the schools in meeting many of the budget goals.
The school system faces the same challenges in the proposed budget as last year’s. Declining enrollment and added school responsibilities create a perfect storm. In addition to the declining Average Daily Membership and other challenges present last year, a critical situation has manifested as a result of the Budget Control Act of 2011.
“On a daily basis in the news you hear the terms ‘sequestration’ and ‘fiscal cliff,’” said Dr. Lowry. “The upcoming budget cuts in January will dramatically impact Education, Defense, Medicare, etc. Simply stated, the ‘fiscal cliff’ impact (if no interventions are made by lawmakers) will eliminate approximately 1,000 government programs, some of which are in education. The across-the-board cuts to federal education programs will be about 8.2 percent and include Title 1 grants, Special Education funding; Teacher Quality and Professional Development grants;Career Technical funds; and English Language Acquisition entitlements.”
“What does this mean for Westmoreland County Public Schools? The best calculation that can be made right now is about $271,000 in cuts. While it is impossible to state with certainty how we would handle a deficit such as this, it would most probably include full-time teaching positions; reductions for paraprofessionals and support staff; reduction in professional development offerings; the elimination of summer school; after school tutorial and extra-curricular programs, and additional deferred maintenance.”
Dr. Lowry continued, “There are many challenges ahead – and we hope to have a clearer picture in early January in terms of what we are facing. The reality is that we would like to maintain the current student-teacher ratios, particularly in the early elementary grades. We are faced with many challenges here.”