As communities across the United States grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic effects, Rep. Paul Schemel, a Republican whose district includes Greencastle and Antrim Township, is urging Pennsylvania school districts to consider cost-savings measures. He released the following letter:
“Whether or not you agree with the shutdowns Gov. Tom Wolf has ordered, the closure of businesses and the anxiety of people fearing COVID-19 has shattered our local economy. As businesses, churches and other entities reopen, it will take time for our community to regain its strength.
“Over 1.7 million Pennsylvanians have lost their jobs and applied for unemployment within the last four weeks alone. Forecasters predict an unemployment rate that will likely top 20% or more, and economists warn that we should prepare for a full-blown recession.
“In addition to members of our community losing work, retirees living on formerly healthy retirement accounts have already experienced significant drops in their retirement income.
“As school board directors meet to formulate annual budgets, they are grappling with unanticipated expenses and declining revenue. Our schools are facing the hard reality of possibly raising taxes at a time when many in our community are seeing their incomes decrease. This is not the time to add to the burdens of taxpayers, and I fear that doing so will only contribute to our economic crisis and prolong our recovery.
“In Harrisburg, there is pressure to force school districts to freeze taxes. However, locally elected school directors are properly empowered to make decisions about local school budgets and taxes. It is better public policy for local officials to make decisions that exclusively impact the local community than for state officials in Harrisburg to do so. After all, it was the decisions made in Harrisburg that led to the inequitable distribution of state education dollars so disadvantaging our local districts for years.
“In order to avoid the negative impact to our community of increased taxes, I implore the dedicated teachers and administrative staff of our schools to voluntarily freeze your salaries for the upcoming budget year. By sacrificing just the increase in your salaries for one year, you will help your struggling neighbors to get through this challenging time. I also call upon our school directors to explore alternatives to raising taxes on the local community.
“To our teachers, I recognize that what I am asking is difficult. Your pay increases were hard won through good-faith collective negotiations. Undoubtedly, some of you have spouses who are suffering a loss of income or you have made plans or financial commitments. I am not asking you to do anything which I and my legislative staff are not also doing.
“To our elected school board members, being a school director is not an enviable task during regular times. As you watch your respective districts’ balance sheets decline, I hope that you will explore every possible means of utilizing the resources at your disposal, including your already-diminished reserve funds, to avoid adding to the burden on the members of our community who already support our schools.
“To all others in our community, if Providence makes it possible for you to live without a significant disruption to your income, please be generous to our community. Be generous to the education foundations that support and enhance our local schools. Be generous to our churches and those organizations that serve the poor in our community. Be generous to our businesses as they struggle to regain their customer base.
“Finally, please be constant in your prayers for all in our community who are suffering. Please pray for all elected officials that we may receive divine wisdom to aid us in making difficult decisions, and please pray for God’s mercy on our community.”