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State may intervene in Reading school budget crisis

By Will Lewis, Reporter, WLewis@wfmz.com
Published On: Apr 19 2012 06:25:36 PM CDT
Updated On: Apr 20 2012 05:29:27 AM CDT

Proposed cuts in the Reading School District are sending shock waves through the community.

READING, Pa. -

Proposed cuts in the Reading School District are sending shock waves through the community.

Now, Pa. Sen. Judy Schwank is taking a closer look at the budget crisis, but the problem, she said, is that there may be very little the state can do.

Members of the Reading School Board have some tough choices to make in the next two months in order to fill a $53 million deficit.

One proposal would cut 374 jobs, 22 programs and consolidate schools.

"I don't know what they can do, but I don't think closing down is a good thing," said Sam Murray, whose child attends Thomas Ford Elementary School.

Consolidation would close Thomas Ford and send those students to Millmont Elementary two miles away.

If student transportation is also cut, parents living in the Oakbrook neighborhood said their children may never get to class.

"They don't have cars to travel and take their kids. Some parents, we do, some other parents don't," said Maribel Queiles, whose child attends Thomas Ford.

"My role is not necessarily to be right on top of the budget issues, but the state needs to be a partner in helping school districts throughout the commonwealth," said Schwank, who has been talking with officials in the Reading School District.

The Berks County lawmaker is currently drafting legislation to help financially strapped districts.

"Give specific pools of money to school districts for proven programs, not just to fill budget holes, but to actually address specific programs," said Schwank.

Even if Schwank's proposed legislation passes, it would only give an additional $7 million to the Reading School District budget, not enough money to fill a $53 million deficit.

"We've got to address this," Schwank said. "No more looking for a white knight to ride in from the state with a lot of dollars to fill the hole. It may not happen, likely won't happen."

Schwank said she is still looking for co-signers to her legislation. In the meantime, she hopes the community will get more involved in this huge problem.