Representatives from Schuylkill County who serve in the state legislature and senate and a guest state senator from Dauphin County fielded questions with great aplomb at the annual convention of school directors from the districts who are members the Schuylkill Intermediate 29, which was held Monday evening in the auditorium of the Maple Avenue Campus of the IU in Norwegian Township.
There was more comments then questions asked of State Senator David Argall, State Representatives Neal Goodman, Jerry Knowles and Michael Tobash and State Senator Jeffrey Picolo, of Dauphin County, who is majority chairman of the senate's education committee.
All speakers were given time to make brief opening speeches and all painted a bleak outlook for the 2011 state budget. All promised they would go over line by line the budget presented by Gov. Tom Corbett.
The one bright note was stated by Picolo who said his committee has 17 bills to review dealing with removing unfunded mandates which had forced districts to carry out programs set by the state to compensate the loss of review to the districts. Picolo told them, "We want to take off the handcuffs to help you with your budget."
Argall told the directors that the legislature is facing a tremendous challenge as the governor in his budget address announced there will be no increases in property, sales or business taxes. He said this is the opening move on budget deliberation they will be undertaking but promised this year the budget would be on time. Argall added that sometime in the near future the legislature can give more options to property taxes.
Goodman said the state house is ready to undertake the challenge and for the first time in years he noticed both Democrats and Republicans ready to sit down and work it out. "You need a strong legislature for such action,"Goodman added.
Knowles also said the governor's proposed budget is a challenge. He told the group he was surprised by the governor's budget calling for increase for the Department of Welfare. He claimed he is going to scrutinize the proposal very thoroughly and weed out the waste he has been hearing. "I will give it a long, good look," Knowles added. He also asked the school districts to give him a list of mandates they would like to see abolished and what the costs were carrying them out.
Tobash added that everyone will have to tighten their belts and everyone will have to find ways to cut spending.
Questions posed to the state leaders dealt with charter schools which most directors and school officials opposed. Larry A. Wittig, Tamaqua school board president, said school boards are not afraid of competition from charter schools but asked the state to treat all districts fairly with everyone on the same plane.
All promised the school directors they will take a hard look at the budget and all promised the goal was to continue to give the students the best education. They asked the school districts also to take a long, hard look to see where they can cut spending. "We all must work together to the same goal," was their parting words.
Members of the Tamaqua Area School District who attended were school board members Robert W. Betz, Bryan W. Miller, Daniel E. Schriner, Wanda Y. Zuber, and Wittig and superintendent Carol Makuta.