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State funding presents major future concern for WCSD

The constant challenge facing the Warren County School District is balancing revenues against ever-increasing expenditures.

There are constant costs — staff, textbooks, technology — and potentially inconsistent revenue from the state.

This year, the state budget was six months late.

But that’s not the threat that district officials think should be at the forefront of the board’s vision.

“I would advise the board, I think you need to move the panic button just a little bit further away from your desk,” Superintendent Amy Stewart said, where the state budget is concerned.

“The piece that’s on the forefront right now is that fair funding formula.”

A state appellate court last year ruled that the existing funding formula was unconstitutional. That means the General Assembly is going to have to do something.

A commission was formed that recently presented a series of recommendations to the General Assembly.

But Stewart told the Times Observer that the commission held no hearings north of I-80.

She acknowledged the district can’t beat out the voices in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia “as a rural school district but we have to be heard.”

“Not knowing where this is all going to go is going to be a stressor,” she said. “Engaging in that advocacy is going to be really important.”

It’s important because this whole process could go a couple of directions.

Stewart said the formula is “made up of all these little factors. I view them as levers.

“There are levers that would benefit the school districts. There are levers that would be catastrophic to the school district.”

She did however advise the board that it has some room to operate and won’t have to undertake a “drastic maneuver” right now.

Director of Business Services Jim Grosch told the board that the “biggest lever the board has is local taxes,” though he stressed that he is “not pointing you in that direction.”

Stewart noted, though, that local tax rate is part of the funding formula – a district’s effort to raise funds locally means it will receive more state dollars.

“That’s how it is right now,” she said. “That’s fact.”

In spite of those challenges, the cost of doing business marches on. And little can be done to change most of that.

Nearly three out of every four dollars the district spends is spent on staff. There’s also the need to replace textbooks and technological resources.

The district replaces textbooks and technology on a seven year plan. That stands to spread out the cost year-over-year.

“We commit funds in our balance sheet,” Grosch said, for those areas “so we can plan for the future.”

The planning, he said, was the result of observing that those areas were often a situation where “the can would get kicked down the road. These are very important projects that we set aside money for.”

However, he acknowledged the funding model “starts to go negative” in the 2027-2028 budget.

Director of Administrative Support Services Gary Weber acknowledged that, because the future can’t be predicted, both the textbook and technology plans are “very fluid.”

He outlined, though, that the decision to provide computers for each student means that the district has “to continually have a refreshment cycle on those computers.”

Weber acknowledged the coming decline in fund balance for these areas.

“It’s not low but diminished,” he said. “That can change on a dime. It fluctuates. We can see it diminishing significantly.”

So what actions would have to be taken to avoid that shortfall?

“The school district really needs to watch the spending over the next five years,” Grosch said. “Five years out is when the deficit occurs.

“Right now it’s going to get through the next year,” he said. “Hopefully the state realizes there is something significantly wrong with their formula.”

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