On Wednesday, May 31, 2017, I joined superintendents of school districts throughout our region at the Forum for Western Pennsylvania School Superintendents and the Campaign for Fair Education Funding. This event was intended to unify our districts and amplify our shared concerns about state funding of public schools. Unfortunately, several comments I made when discussing future budget challenges that all districts face were taken out of context by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. This has understandably created some confusion, but it is important to dispel any misinformation - Baldwin-Whitehall School District has no plans to cut full-day kindergarten.
However, the forum and its subsequent coverage about the financial complexities and challenges facing our school districts in Pennsylvania does create an opportunity for us to have a meaningful dialogue about how the Commonwealth invests in our students.
First, I want to wholeheartedly thank you, the families and taxpayers who make such a vital contribution to the education of our children. Like most districts, Baldwin-Whitehall schools are overwhelmingly reliant upon our local tax base in order to satisfy our budget. Our most recent annual budget was over 50% local taxpayer-funded, with only 37% of our budget coming from the state and the remainder coming from federal resources. Therefore, when we say, “we couldn’t do what we do without you,” we literally mean it: your tax dollars are the building blocks of every Baldwin-Whitehall student’s education.
We also take great pride in our ability to responsibly manage your investment, even as our District’s population and its needs grow at a faster pace than the state’s funding can meet. Ours is the 7th-largest district in the region, yet through painstakingly efficient fiscal stewardship, we maintain the lowest cost per-student budget of all districts in Allegheny County. By comparison, our 2016-2017 operating budget was $63 million, while districts of similar sizes regularly operate with budgets of $77 to $90 million. Despite this difference, our schools’ performance scores are competitive with districts who enjoy larger budgets, proving that our teachers and staff are not only among the most effective educators in the state, we have learned to do much more with much less.
The future demands that our schools produce students whose innovation, creativity, and critical thinking skills will create the jobs and solve the problems of the next century. I am proud to be a reliable steward of your consistent public investment in our students as we strive to provide a first-class education that will move our region and each student’s life forward. However, I also encourage you to join the discussion about school funding that is happening at the state level, and demanding that Pennsylvania invest as much in its own future as you already do.
Dr. Randal A. Lutz