State budget cuts take a toll on Northside


At nearly the eleventh hour, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett signed off on a new $27.15 billion state budget that sought to eliminate an over $4 billion deficit without having to raise taxes, and many organizations and institutions in the Northside are already feeling the cuts.

Local state-funded primary and secondary education institutions and affiliated organizations are especially feeling the pinch of a tighter budget.

The cut in major education programs spending totals $863 million. Overall, spending will be returned to 2008/09 levels, the last year before federal stimulus funding was made available.

The Community College of Allegheny County, one of many higher education institutions in the city, will receive 10 percent less funding this fiscal year than they received last year.

“In recent years, we had gotten stimulus money to fill the gaps, but that funding has expired,” said college spokesman David Hoovler. “We knew the reduction was coming and accordingly adjusted our annual budget.”

The CCAC Board of Trustees approved a $2 per credit increase in tuition and also placed a freeze on all hiring. The school will additionally need to look at other areas, including class sizes, to see if there are other ways to work within the new budgetary constraints. The school plans to continue its open enrollment.

“We want to keep education affordable and maintain the quality,” Hoovler said.

Pittsburgh Public Schools are also feeling the crunch. According to Ebony Pugh, the district’s budget deficit for the 2011-12 school year is expected to be nearly $24 million and by 2015-16, it could reach $100 million. Meetings are being arranged to talk to residents about possible school closings.

“We have begun conversations with the community on some difficult decisions that lie ahead,” said Ms. Pugh. “We’re going to be looking at everything.”

Meetings run by A+ Schools, a community alliance for public education, will be on the Northside at the Pittsburgh Project and Northview Heights Citizens’ Council at the end of this month.

However, some aspects of the budget cuts will assist education. One benefit is an initiative to measure long-term teacher effectiveness and establish a more effective teacher rating system when assigning tenure. The budget also looks to apply stricter standards of achievement for state charter schools.

Other institutions that are both directly and indirectly affected by cuts in the budget are local museums.

The Carnegie Science Center traditionally has not received much state funding, but this year even that small amount has been reduced to zero.

While that will not hurt the Science Center immediately, it could have a greater impact on the discounted ticket program they currently offer to local schools. Schools that also have to rearrange their programs to accommodate fewer state dollars may no longer be able to fit in educational trips.

 “We won’t know the real impact until this fall,” said Co-Director of the Carnegie Science Center Ron Baillie. “Once the budget cuts become clear, schools using the center might decrease dramatically.”

Margaret Singer is currently working toward her master’s degree in journalism at Point Park University.



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