- Associated Press - Sunday, April 13, 2014

SCRANTON, Pa. (AP) - School officials in Pennsylvania say they are under extreme financial pressure because of delinquent construction reimbursements from the state government as pension costs continue spiraling.

Western Wayne School District is one such district, The Times-Tribune of Scranton reported (https://bit.ly/1hLECng ) Sunday.

It is now asking the state Education Department for permission to raise property taxes above a set rate and is considering asking voters to raise taxes by as much as 6 percent.

“We did all the financial planning that was necessary to build this building,” Western Wayne Superintendent Clay LaCoe told the Times-Tribune. “We followed the rules by the state. They’re not following through on their obligation.”

At an April 2 House Education Committee hearing, Southern York County School District submitted testimony that it is owed $745,000 by the state for additions and renovations to Friendship Elementary School.

Construction began in 2011, and the district said it has made up for the lack of state reimbursement by tapping its reserves and reducing its staff.

The state has not told area districts when they can expect payment, school officials say.

Department of Education spokesman Tim Eller said more money could be put toward construction reimbursements if changes are made to lower school pension system costs.

The state has been budgeting $296 million a year for the reimbursements, while it estimates that it would need $1.7 billion to pay for 347 projects that are not far enough along in the process to have started receiving reimbursements.

With school construction reimbursement costs escalating, Gov. Tom Corbett called for a moratorium on new applications for reimbursement. The Legislature agreed and the moratorium went into effect in October 2012.

That means that a school district that needs to renovate a leaking roof or fix a failing mechanical system during this period will not be eligible for state reimbursement, according to the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials. The impact of the moratorium hits small, less wealthy districts and their taxpayers hardest, the group said.

An extension of the moratorium for a third year is under consideration.

A state lawmaker, Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, is calling for an additional $100 million in funding for school construction projects, but he also said the state’s school construction obligations are unsustainable. He is proposing to narrow the future projects that would qualify for state aid.

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