It has been a long-standing tradition in the Warren County School District that preliminary budgets presented by superintendents have been grim affairs, rife with warnings of possible tax increases, along with draconian cuts in programs and staffing.
Brandon Hufnagel's presentation to the school board Monday night fills all those attributes.
But, there was something in Hufnagel's report that gives it more credence than previous predictions of doom.
Until this past budget cycle, the state hadn't slashed its basic education subsidy to school districts to the extent the WCSD coped with in 2011. The budget would only balance with the erosion of the district's carryover from the previous year, the loss of scores of faculty, and other austerity measures that have affected everything from curriculum to extra-curricular activities and student services.
Hufnagel was the first to admit that his early, rough prognostication is exceptionally dour, and he assured the board that what they saw Monday won't be the final formula.
However, there are no indications from Harrisburg, either from the governor's office or his General Assembly that any of the cuts made in 2011 will be restored in 2012. In fact, Gov. Corbett has indicated that the cuts may very well continue.
Hufnagel has only piloted the district for a couple months, but shows every indication of a steady hand. Given what we know of the tenor of Harrisburg when it comes to education funding and the realities of local revenue streams and student populations, we have no reason to believe that there isn't at least some ultimate truth in Hufnagel's predictions.
The challenge will come over the next few months as the school board grapples with the vagaries of the state legislature, the financial uncertainty of a new charter high school, and the myriad other factors that could continue to undermine not only the fiscal health of the district, but its ability to maintain a high level of educational opportunity for our children.