An administrator from the smallest public school district in the four-county region — and the state — will testify about a big issue on Thursday in front of state legislators and leaders.
Jerry Sasala, who is the acting superintendent/principal in the Austin Area School District, will focus on a basic education funding formula when he speaks during a Basic Education Commission hearing in Greenville, Mercer County.
“It’s very vital that they listen,” Sasala told The Era on Monday night.
That commission is made up of state senators and representatives and the governor’s administration who are responsible for developing and recommending to the General Assembly a new formula for dispersing state funding for basic education to Pennsylvania school districts. Pennsylvania currently has no basic education formula, relying instead on a combination of previous legislation.
And especially for Potter and Cameron counties, there are plenty of unique challenges, Sasala said. He knows both counties well, being an administrator at the Austin area district and a former administrator and music teacher in Cameron County.
One of those issues includes state lands. Sasala said that 10 percent of land in the Austin Area School District is taxable; the remainder is owned by the state.
Sasala is part of the State Land Tax Fairness Coalition, which has a mission to increase the in-lieu-of-taxes paid to counties, townships and counties for state forest, game and park lands and a share of revenue desired from oil/gas leasing and timber sales on state forest land.
“We’re not asking for quality, we’re asking for equality,” Sasala said.
During his talk on Thursday, he is representing the Seneca Highlands Intermediate Unit Nine, which serves Cameron, Elk, McKean, and Potter counties.
“Senator (Joe) Scarnati is to be commended for having an IU9 superintendent placed on the Basic Education Funding Commission agenda,” said Dr. Pamela Lenz, circuit rider for Pennsylvania Campaign for Fair Education Funding. “It’s critical that Commission members hear from all areas of the Commonwealth.”
Lenz said the Campaign for Fair Education Funding “is making great progress on a basic education funding formula that they will recommend to the Commission.” The group includes those involved in business, child advocacy, education and more.
Over the past few months Lenz has become familiar with northwestern Pennsylvania, including spending a good part of a day in the Austin school district.
“Each of the districts has impressed me with the creative way they have utilized resources to provide a variety of quality and innovative programs that are helping students prepare for their futures,” she said. “That they are doing this while also emphasizing the importance of character and community is even more exceptional.”
Officials from area schools have indicated how vital is to for equality in school funding, Lenz said.
“They are committed to the students and families in their districts, as well as the well-being of all the state’s youth,” Lenz said.
The Basic Education Funding Commission hearing on Thursday is one of three remaining sessions. Two others are planned: One on Feb. 5 in Montgomery County and another on Feb. 26 in Dauphin County.
“The Commission has heard from a broad cross-section of the Commonwealth as well as education organizations and experts in the area of school funding,” Lenz said. “When the hearings have concluded, the Commission will begin to draft their funding formula recommendation.”
And that new formula would take into account wealth, local tax effort, geographic price differences, enrollment levels, local support as well as other factors, according to information provided by Lenz.