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Tyrone School Board to consider renovation funding options next week

Several months ago, The Tyrone Area School District had planned to fund the district’s middle school expansion/renovation project with cash.
Now, the district is considering a possible change and will address the issue at next Tuesday’s Tyrone Area School District board meeting.
“We are considering possible funding options after realizing some conditions have changed over the last several months,” said Tyrone Area School Superintendent Dr. William Miller.
“We could still go with cash,” Miller told The Daily Herald.
“Any change should have no impact on when the project would begin and could prove beneficial to the district,” said Miller.
“We will have our financial management firm, Public Financial Management out of Harrisburg on hand at Tuesday’s meeting to explain the financing options to the board,” said Miller.
The middle school project is expected to cost about $10 million, according to Dr. Miller.
So far the project is still in the early stages with initial documents being sent to the Pennsylvania Department of Education as part of what is known as Plan Con A. In layman’s terms, the first part of the construction plan for a school renovation project.
An Act 34 public hearing is scheduled to held in early February. However, Dr. Miller explained the possible change in financing could cause the meeting to be delayed. He indicated such a delay would be only a couple weeks and as mentioned wouldn’t delay the project.
The hearings are held regarding school renovation project’s when the project would increase a building size by a certain percentage.
Act 34 is also known as the ‘Taj Mahal’ act which was designed to prevent school districts from embarking on unnecessarily large expansions of their existing buildings.
In an unrelated matter, Dr. Miller also spoke to The Daily Herald about Governor Rendell’s education initiatives and the recent resolution to the state’s budget problems.
Miller revealed the state has not yet released basic education funds due the district that were held up while budget issues were being resolved in Harrisburg.
Tyrone’s superintendent also feels Governor Rendell’s education initiatives could “really make a difference” in the area of early childhood education.
Miller also cited a recent report which ranks Pennsylvania next to last in an evaluation of how fairly the 50 states treat their school districts while expressing his concern about education funding.
The Associated Press reported earlier this week a national report card ranks Pennsylvania next to last in an evaluation of how fairly the 50 states treat their school districts.
The AP article reported Pennsylvania got a D-minus in equity of education resources, just ahead of Illinois, which received a failing grade in an annual report from Education Weekly and the Pew Charitable Trusts. The grades were based in part on how much state governments contributed to local school districts, an area where Pennsylvania lingers toward the bottom.
According to the report titled, “Quality Counts 2004: Count Me In,” Pennsylvania school districts get an average of 39 percent of their budgets from the state. By comparison, Ohio school districts get 45.5 percent from the state; West Virginia, 66.9 percent; New Jersey, 41.8 percent; New York, 50.2 percent. Nebraska contributed 37 percent.
Researchers also looked at how districts are funded — by property taxes, a guaranteed tax base, flat grants, full state funding or a combination. The report noted that “wealthier districts (in Pennsylvania) tend to receive significantly more state and local revenue than property-poor ones do.”
Gov. Ed Rendell has been campaigning to change how the state funds school districts. In April, Rendell proposed that the state take on 50 percent of local school funding and enact a method to reduce local property taxes.
However, a battle ensued in the Legislature and the state passed a budget with no percentage increases in state funding for local districts and no change in the property-tax system.
Education reform groups blame both the state Legislature and the previous administration of Govs. Tom Ridge and Mark Schweiker for not using budget surpluses on education.
“We can now write the book on the Ridge-Schweiker years,” said Tim Potts, director of the Pennsylvania School Reform Network.
Donna Cooper, Rendell’s education policy director, said the current system relies too heavily on property taxes.
“Pennsylvania has a long way to go to bring greater equity to its school funding system,” Cooper said.
Legislators are expected to take up the governor’s plan to use gambling proceeds for property tax reduction, Cooper said.
Rendell wants to put slot machines at 13 locations around the state, which he says could generate $1 billion for property tax relief.
The money also could help increase the state’s share of education funding to 47 percent — the highest level since 1977, Cooper said.
“A 50-50 partnership is the goal,” she said.
(The Associated Press contributed to this article.)