Volume 97 Issue 5 News

Pennsylvania state budget cuts

by Jamie Mistretta

The state of Pennsylvania and many of its local major organizations are facing the effects of a budget crisis that has been going on for years now. With the Pennsylvania state budget still causing controversy, organizations such as the Huntingdon House, the Huntingdon School District and others are experiencing detrimental outcomes without the state funded financial support they are accustomed to receiving.

“What we’ve gathered, from the educational perspective, there are some major items being discussed if you have a republican legislature and you have a democratic government,” said Fred Foster, superintendent of the Huntingdon school district. “Even when Governor Corbett was in there, there were a lot of cuts and reductions. There’s been a budget crisis for four, five, six years now.”

Dennis Plane, associate professor of politics, agreed. “The budget was passed, but Tom Wolf did not sign it. So the budget did not become law, is a better way to say it. For the budget to become law, it has to be passed by the legislature and signed by the governor. In essence, they haven’t been able to agree on a budget because the legislature has different priorities for taxing and spending then does the governor, and they haven’t been able to reach some sort of compromise,” said Plane.

With the differences of opinion and priorities, many state funded organizations have been suffering as a result. “We house a Head Start Pre-K program,” said Foster. “This Wednesday coming up before Thanksgiving, if the budget isn’t passed by then, the Head Start programs are going to close, and K-3 program will not exist until the funds do. They’ve already taken out two loans; they can’t take out anymore. So they’re going to shut down.”

Plane predicted future outcomes for students and community members if compromise is not reached. “If this budget crisis rolls over into next semester and if school districts start closing the schools because they can’t pay their bills and they don’t want to borrow any more money, then it’s going to have tremendous ripple down effects on the community,” said Plane.

Plane later added, “The direct effects are felt almost entirely in Huntingdon County, at this point, by Huntingdon House. They are suffering the brunt of this effect. There is the potential for, if this lingers, for those effects to be even broader and effect many more organizations in Huntingdon County.”

Brendon Sison, a senior with a POE in social work, completed an internship over the summer at Huntingdon House and noticed the effects of the lack of funds. “The state Budget wasn’t passed in June, so even when I was working in the house, it was severely understaffed,” said Sison. “Most counselors, they couldn’t even go on a break to get lunch. Somebody had to be constantly there. With that, some of the clients were being neglected, in a way, and there was a lot of tension from that. A lot of things didn’t get done, and the services side of the whole thing really suffered throughout the entire time I was there, but it’s surprising how resilient the clients and the workers there are despite of that. I would say it was difficult, very stressful at times, not unhopeful but now it’s a lot different with the house being closed.”

Although Foster’s greatest concern was within the school district, he reflected on other organizations in his community that will be affected as well. “Any organization like the United Way, Huntingdon abuse centers, the MHMR, anything like that the county supports are all being impacted right now by the state budget, certainly not just the school district. This is certainly not just a school district dilemma. County agencies on aging, welfare, housing, any of that that provides support to our elders. Before school even starts, we’re being impacted by this not being passed,” said Foster.  

Despite the evident effects of the budget, Foster mentioned that the Huntingdon school district is okay on funds until February because of their smaller population. “We have been able, at least at this point, to survive as of our last board update. We’re probably good until February. Anything after February’s not good. We lived right down off of our local revenue only, not the state. We have not pursued the line of credit or a loan yet, but by January we will definitely be pursuing that,” said Foster.

Plane offered some insight into what these loans will mean for Huntingdon County community members. “School districts and other organizations have to borrow money to keep their doors open because they’re not getting money from the state and that means that the school districts are going to have to pay that money back with interest,” said Plane. “So as tax payers, we are now not only paying for our school system but we’re paying for our school system plus we’re paying interest on the money we borrowed, and that is more expensive.”

The effects will not only be felt by tax payers of the community but also by grade-school students and staff as well. “I look at the course offerings. I got here four years ago. Huntingdon used to have 2500 students, and our enrollment is now down to 1960. Anytime you lose enrollment, you’re certainly going to lose staff. So we’ve certainly lost some offerings over the past few years and before I got here, but the arts we’ve kept, the music we’ve kept (and) the AP classes we’ve actually increased. I’d hope to say right now that our current students aren’t feeling it as much as probably the upper level of us standing thinking about what’s going to happen if it doesn’t come through,” said Foster.

It is evident that there is only one solution to this crisis, and that lies within the product of a compromise. “The nature of compromise is not necessarily that one side is over here and one side is over there and you meet in the middle, that is one type of compromise but that’s a very unusual compromise,” said Plane. “To reach that, you basically have to say, ‘Well both positions are reasonable, and the only way out of it is to take something in the middle.’ But that seldom happens because both sides say ‘No, no, no my positions is reasonable but your position is unreasonable and I’m not going to go half way between a reasonable position and an unreasonable position, that gets you more than you deserve. You need to come more to my direction.’”

Foster agreed. He concluded, “There are not too many people you’ll speak to who will try and make this sound positive. We just want to know what we’re getting so we can move from there.”

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