The Legislature could take a new look at determining what cost savings could be realized by consolidating Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts.
House lawmakers face a vote this month on a resolution directing the Joint State Government Commission to study potential savings from consolidation in the areas of administrative salaries, purchasing power and student transportation. The study would examine whether consolidating along county lines or to coincide with intermediate units are better options.
The sponsor, Rep. Mike Vereb, R-150, Collegeville, suggested that consolidating districts can help reduce administrative overhead, address declining student populations in some areas and ease the burden on local property taxpayers.
With state education aid and property tax relief looming as major flashpoints in the state budget debate, lawmakers want to see where school districts can realize savings so more resources can go to classrooms and possibly hold the line on property taxes.
Rep. Sid Michaels Kavulich, D-114, Taylor, is involved in efforts to consolidate school health care plans, for example.
He co-sponsors a bill to create a state board to study the cost-effectiveness of a statewide health plan, regional plans or consolidating specific areas, such as prescription drugs.
The Legislative Budget and Finance Committee issued an earlier study in 2007 that delved into the nitty-gritty as to how a future school district consolidation could proceed.
That study identified 88 districts with above-average costs that could be paired with neighboring districts for a combined enrollment of less than 3,000 students. Many of these districts are in the rural northern tier.
In Northeastern Pennsylvania, the pairing of Lackawanna Trail School District in Wyoming County and Mountain View School District in Susquehanna County was viewed by the 2007 study as a potential option.
The 2007 study only gathered dust, as many such studies do.
School superintendents surveyed for the study said public opposition would be widespread with fears of a loss of local identity, especially with sports teams and longer bus rides among the factors.
Of course, similar concerns were expressed when the current system of school districts was created nearly 50 years ago in the late 1960s.
Statute of limitations
The Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, bishop of the Diocese of Scranton and other Catholic Church prelates have issued warnings directly to parishioners about statute of limitation provisions in a House-approved child sex abuse bill.
The measure passed in April and is pending before the Senate. It would allow victims of child sex abuse up to age 50 to file civil lawsuits retroactively regardless of when the abuse occurred.
In a letter, Bishop Bambera wrote that he supports the removal of statute of limitations in criminal cases and could support a prospective extension of the statute in civil cases, especially if it treats all survivors identically.
“In the proposed bill, however, state lawmakers are considering legislation that would retroactively nullify the statute of limitations for filing a civil lawsuit alleging childhood sexual abuse,” he wrote. “It would force parishes, dioceses, schools and charities to defend cases that are 20, 30, or 40 years old, long after the perpetrator and possible witnesses have died or clear evidence is gone. It could lead to the closure of parishes, schools and ministries of today’s Catholics, who are in no way responsible for abuse that occurred decades ago.”
Bishop Bambera wrote the letter to let parishioners know about the legislation and to remind them about steps the church has taken to support survivors of sexual abuse, said Bill Genello, diocese director of communications.
Similar letters have been sent in other dioceses, said Amy Hill, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference.
A prominent bill supporter, Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-126, Temple, has said lifting the statute of limitations is necessary to bring justice for survivors and hold abusers accountable.