Morning Must Reads: While Governor and Legislature Dally, School Buildings Crumble and Tuition Rises

The Reading School District has a backlog of building repairs approaching $750 million. Is anyone in the Governor’s office or perhaps the Legislature paying attention? To see firsthand, they don't even have to go to Reading; they can just turn on CNN this weekend!

The Reading School District will be one of several districts from across the nation featured in a CNN special this weekend about the need to repair crumbling schools.

It's a problem the district is acutely aware of. With its collection of old buildings — some dating back to the 1920s — the district has recently begun the task of tackling much-needed repairs, renovations and updates.

The district hired an architectural firm to create a list of everything that needed to be done, and when the results came back a few months ago the news was grim: The total cost would be somewhere around $750 million.

Everything from leaky roofs to broken heating systems to crumbling walls was included in the report. Many are problems that have gone unfixed for years, Acting Superintendent J. Drue Miles said ... the district has about $56 million stowed away for school upgrades. And its borrowing ability would not bring in nearly enough to cover the rest, he added.

The University of Pittsburgh, facing the prospect of more cuts in state funding for higher education, is bracing students, staff and faculty for another round of tuition increases and layoffs.

Facing the prospect of more state budget cuts, University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenberg has issued a statement that could foreshadow future tuition increases and staff reductions.

"Levels of state support, which had been eroding for years, now are being more visibly and dramatically slashed," Mr. Nordenberg wrote in a statement posted by the university at www.pitt.edu ...

Mr. Nordenberg said that appropriations for state-related universities account for less than 2 percent of the state budget but 16 percent of the reduction.

Pitt began the school year with a 22 percent or $40 million cut in state appropriations, he said. In the fall, Pitt learned the state was decreasing its support for capital projects at Pitt from $40 million to $20 million.

Meanwhile, at the Pennsylvania Farm Show, Governor Tom Corbett says negotiations on a fee on gas drilling are proceeding. No really, take your time. It's not like we need the revenue to avoid deeper spending cuts that will place a further drag on Pennsylvania job growth. It's not like teachers are working for free, school buildings are crumbling or college students are adding on layers of new student loan debt as we speak.

The Farm Show’s Legislator’s Luncheon was sponsored by the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a supporter of Corbett’s gubernatorial campaign. Since entering office, he has been reluctant to levy impact fees on shale companies, but Corbett said Thursday he and the Legislature are getting closer to an agreement on fees.

"I see progress," he said of the ongoing negotiations that failed last year. "It’s being worked on at the legislative staff level right now. There’s a great deal of agreement on many issues, [but] there’s some disagreement on other issues. That’s a negotiation."

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