When the state doled out education money in the new budget finalized Sunday night, it included $1 million in a category called “Third Class County School District supplement.”
That name suggests 154 districts in 12 third class counties (a classification determined by population) had a crack at the money, but it all went to one place: Hazleton Area.
In an era of austerity, that good fortune is worth a small fortune. The budget signed by Gov. Tom Corbett increased education funding overall by 2.77 percent. Luzerne County’s 10 other districts saw increases between 1.3 percent to 2.6 percent, and without the $1 million supplement Hazleton Area would have been right in that pack at 2.3 percent.
Add the million, and Hazleton Area’s increase more than doubles, to 5.4 percent.
How did Luzerne County’s largest school district get so lucky? Superintendent Francis Antonelli said he didn’t know, but he praised state Rep. Tarah Toohil.
“She really represented our interests and worked very hard to get us much needed financial relief,” Antonelli said. “I give her a lot of credit, and the governor. He’s been very supportive of our initiatives.” Antonelli cited the district’s new magnet school set to open this fall, focusing on so-called STEM subjects: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, fields Corbett has championed.
Toohil did not return a call for comment Wednesday.
Preserves fund balance
Antonelli, Business Manager Tony Ryba and Assistant Business Manger Robert Krizansky would not speculate on why the supplement ended up crafted in a way that sent all the money to Hazleton Area — they just expressed gratitude. Ryba said the money would allow the district to avoid depleting it’s fund balance to cover a $1.1 million shortfall in the budget. The district had planned on using money from the fund balance, a reserve built up over years, to make up that shortfall.
The requirements for getting any of the $1 million supplement essentially set up three gauntlets that, individually, allowed plenty of districts to have a crack at the money, but collectively winnowed the competition down to one.
The first requirement, that the qualifying districts be “located within a county of the third class as determined by the 2010 census,” cut the field from 500 districts to 154, including, of course, all 11 districts in Luzerne County. A county is “third class” if the population is between 210,000 to 499,999.
The second requirement involves what the state calls the “market value/personal income aid ratio” a complex calculation used to determine a district’s relative wealth, thus theoretically helping the state funnel money to needier districts. To qualify for the supplement, a district must have an aid ratio between 0.60 and 0.69. There are 128 districts statewide that fall in that range. But only 24 of those are in third class counties, including six in Luzerne County.
The third requirement involves “Average Daily Membership,” a sophisticated calculation of enrollment. To qualify, a district’s 2011-12 ADM had to be greater than 10,000 but less than 13,000. Only 10 districts statewide meet that criteria. Only two of those also meet the aid ratio requirement: Hazleton Area and Upper Darby. And Upper Darby is in a second class county.
Hazleton fully qualifies
Thus, while the $1 million supplement appears to have the potential to help at least 10 and up to 154 districts, it ends up all going to Hazleton.
In fact, a breakdown of the allocations to school districts shows many examples of supplements that created a pot of money to be spread among qualifying districts, but actually went to a select few. There are 13 supplements, and only one — the “student focused funding supplement” — spreads money among all school districts.
Of the other 12 — including the one awarded solely to Hazleton Area — six supplements each went to a single district, four split the supplement total between two districts, one spread the money among three districts, and one was divvied among five districts.
The money from those 12 supplements totaled $30.26 million. Yet the criteria for each supplement was so narrow that only 21 districts qualified for any of that money, and only one — York City School District — received money from more than one of the 12 supplements, nabbing $5.4 million total from two supplements.