YATESVILLE — Because of the state’s budget impasse, the Pittston Area School District will not be able to continue day-to-day operations, financially, to finish the school year.
District Business Manager Albert Melone said the school will be out of money at the end of April in front of a standing-room-only crowd at the monthly school board meeting Tuesday.
“We’ve been hollering wolf for a long time to get bailed out,” he said in front of approximately 150 people at the meeting held in the high school library. “None of us thought it would go this far.”
Pittston Area Superintendent Kevin Booth ordered the district to have an Act 80 half day on March 11 to discuss the situation with all teachers within the district. Both Melone and Booth reiterated the situation is not because a misappropriation of funds, but because they are simply running out of money that should have been provided by the state.
Booth said the districts in the area have seen this coming for a while.
“Every superintendent is in panic mode,” he said. “We’re at a point where I lost my faith in (Harrisburg).”
Pittston Area, operating on a $45 million budget for the 2015-16 school year, was just $17,000 over their projected numbers. The district has exhausted its fund balance, Melone said, which was $1.4 million.
Melone said the options for the school are limited, but would include closing the school or taking the matter in front of a judge to ask for more money. One of the bigger questions of the night revolved around the senior class at Pittston Area.
“The chicken has come here to roost,” Melone said. “How do we get our seniors to graduate?”
Student Ambassador Delmar Guziewicz, a Pittston Area senior and member of the Model UN club, said Pittston Area seniors have met to discuss the situation. One of the class’ solutions was to meet with administration to continue classes outside of the school, which the board has also discussed.
Booth said the district can also write to the Pennsylvania Department of Education seeking a adjustment on required hours for seniors to graduate.
Guziewicz, who got a rousing applause when he was finished speaking, said the long-term solution to the problem would be to reform teacher’s pension plans. Guziewicz said he has met with state Sen. John Blake to discuss this and will be meeting with him again later this week.
“We are spending lot of money on teacher pensions,” he said. “This is not acceptable to the students. This is not acceptable to the teachers. This is not acceptable.”
The board is open to suggestions from the residents of the district. Maria O’Boyle offered the solution of writing to the capital.
“The best way to get action done is to send physical mail,” she said to the audience. “That aggravates them more than anything — stop holding out kids hostage. I appreciated the effort everyone is putting in.”
In December, school districts received a portion of the 2015-16 funding from the state after Gov. Tom Wolf released emergency funding to districts. That was about 45 percent of the allocated funds. Booth said, with a $1.5 million per month overall teacher’s salary, that money is gone through quickly.
Guziewicz’s last remarks to the board, directed at Booth, was a question as to whether Pittston Area seniors would graduate.
“I wish I could answer that question,” Booth said just before the meeting was closed.
The board advised residents of the district to attend one of the several information sessions in the Wyoming Valley regarding the state budget. Wyoming Area School District will be hosting a session at 7 p.m. on Wednesday in the high school’s cafeteria. Also, the Hanover Area School District has planned a meeting for Monday in the high school auditorium at 6:30 p.m.
Wyoming Area, also feeling significant burden from the budget impasse, said in a release on Monday: “The consequences grow serious as many are depleting savings, making cuts and holding off on purchases and payments, or borrowing to meet expenses. Many districts will not be able to make it through the end of the school year. Many schools may have to close their doors.”
The next meeting of the Pittston Area School Board will be at 7 p.m. on April 19 in the high school library.
Reach Nick Wagner at 570-602-0178 or on Twitter @Dispatch_Nick