Superintendent Jay Badams floated a proposal to close the city’s high schools — all four of them — and pay tuition to send kids to better-funded schools in the surrounding county.

The pushback, Badams said, was intense.

“One of the ones that sticks with me is that, ‘We hope you solve your financial problems. We don’t want your troubled city kids out here in our county schools. Why do you think we moved out to the county in the first place?’ ” Badams recalled. “And some of them were far worse….”

 

“If we’re going to be offering kids an inequitable high school experience, something that’s vastly inferior in terms of resources to what’s available to students outside the city limits, we thought it was an ethical decision,” Badams said.

In the end, the district went with a less radical plan to consolidate its schools, making better use of the space hollowed out from years of falling enrollment. Two high schools will become middle schools, and two elementary buildings will close.

But, as Ms. Scott reported, even the plan to consolidate schools found the district short. Even though the  district has closed three elementary schools, cut 350 jobs and pared back arts, foreign language and shop classes in the past seven years and now consolidated it’s secondary schools, it was still $4,000,000 short. And as a result music, physical education, sports — even full-day kindergarten — are on the table.

“Anything that could be considered extra has to be considered, and our board faces some really grim choices,” Badams said. “There’s nothing left to cut.”

And as Ms. Scott points out in her report, school choice will not save the day. Indeed, if anything the choice program in Erie has contributed to the financial problems and tough budget decisions facing the Erie Board:

“One of the fallacies of the whole notion of school choice as being away to improve the actual public school system is that when you take resources away from the schools that you’re hoping will compete, you make them less competitive,” Badams said.

 

At the end of her report, Ms. Scott notes that last year Pennsylvania adopted “…a new “fair funding formula” that takes factors like poverty and the number of English language learners into account.” But the so called “fair funding formula” only applies to funding increases going forward, which means that the old inequities are not addressed. If PA wanted to adopt a TRUE “fair funding formula” it would provide Erie with the $3,000 per pupil it is lacking as compared to its neighboring districts. With 11,500 students enrolled, that would provide the district with $34,500,000. That just might result in equity going forward even though it would not redress the short changing of the past.