Bald Eagle

Wolf visits Wingate Elementary, stumps for education budget

State Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, left, and Gov. Tom Wolf wave goodbye to students while touring the building. Wolf visited Wingate Elementary School in the Bald Eagle Area School District, Monday, March 9, 2015.
State Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, left, and Gov. Tom Wolf wave goodbye to students while touring the building. Wolf visited Wingate Elementary School in the Bald Eagle Area School District, Monday, March 9, 2015. CDT photo

The little girl ran up to the front of the class to sort the words into categories, using a pointer to click on one tile and digitally slide it into the “sounds like” box on the screen.

Gov. Tom Wolf leaned over to state Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Benner Township.

“I said to Jake, ‘That didn’t happen when we were in school,’ ” the governor recounted.

Wolf was at Wingate Elementary School on Monday to see how technology and new teaching techniques are affecting education.

He also was there with a message, urging support of his proposed budget. Called the Pennsylvania Education Reinvestment Act, Wolf expects it to produce more than a billion dollars in the next two years through a severance tax and an additional fee of 4.7 cents per thousand feet of volume on natural gas extraction.

In the governor’s spending plan for 2015-16, he wants to dramatically increase money for education by $2 billion over four years, affecting the littlest learners to the collegiate level. For Bald Eagle Area School District, that would mean going from the $725,000 cut over the past four years to a $484,606 increase in just one year. It will also provide the district with an allocation of $4.8 million in property tax relief.

“It’s not just a good thing for Bald Eagle,” Wolf said. “I care about what happens in schools in Erie, in Philadelphia, in State College.”

Wolf said he wants to revamp how education is funded, from being about local property taxes to relying more on state contributions. The governor’s proposal would increase the state share of funding to 50 percent for the first time in 40 years.

“We really need to invest in education,” he said.

Corman disagreed. Although he was present for the tour, he said after Wolf left that the plan was not practical. Corman advocated addressing pension issues that are creating critical problems for local school districts, saying that would do more to increase the amount of money districts have at their discretion.

But school board members such as Bellefonte’s Bob Lumley-Sapanski are excited about the prospects of the governor’s proposal.

“It’s been tight giving the kids the education they need to be successful,” he said after the tour. “I know this is a starting point ... but I’m optimistic.”

Wingate Principal Jim Orichosky said he hopes to see the funding approved. He wants to roll the money into additional technology, like the Smartboards Wolf saw in first grade.

The Smartboards are in only four classrooms in the kindergarten through fifth-grade building, with two more in broader areas like the library. Orichosky said he also would like to increase the number of Chromebooks for students. Right now, Wingate has 90 of them on carts that can be used in different classrooms. There are about 400 students in the building.

“We have 21st century learners. We want to make sure we have 21st century tools,” he told the governor. “Our students live in an interactive world now.”

Orichosky also said he would like to see the district develop a comprehensive preschool program.

Wolf said he doesn’t plan to dictate how the new money will be spent.

“The money goes into the classroom,” he said. “Every school board needs to be in charge of how they spend their money.”

He did, however, talk about the importance of accountability and how standardized testing fits into the picture.

“There is a good case to be made for accountability. We want to make sure we are getting a return on our investment,” Wolf said. He said he didn’t believe that “high stakes testing” should be a focus of education.

“That’s not the way to go,” he said.

The final budget will not be known for months. The last two administrations have faced showdowns with the General Assembly over budget negotiations.

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