‘Where did this deficit come from?’

The Times-Tribune - - Editorial -

That the big Scran­ton School District deficit be­came even big­ger dur­ing 2016 is, as district board mem­ber Cy Douaihy put it, “dis­turb­ing but not sur­pris­ing.” Ac­tu­ally, what is so dis­turb­ing is that the deficit in­crease was wholly pre­dictable be­cause the board, which has a state con­sti­tu­tional man­date to adopt a bal­anced bud­get, de­lib­er­ately passed a badly un­der­funded bud­get in 2016 for the fourth con­sec­u­tive year.

The 2016 au­dit says the Scran­ton district fin­ished the year with a $25.3 mil­lion deficit. But bond doc­u­ments pre­pared for the district early this year show the deficit now to be $33.6 mil­lion and grow­ing, with a po­ten­tial to reach $47 mil­lion by the end of De­cem­ber — by which time the board is sup­posed to have a new bal­anced bud­get.

Yet board Pres­i­dent Bob Sheri­dan said “we have been work­ing very hard and do­ing a lot of things to bring that deficit down.”

Oh? Things such as ex­tend­ing an un­bid bus­ing con­tract af­ter the state au­di­tor gen­eral blasted the board for award­ing it. And, as the bud­get grew, push­ing ex­ist­ing debt re­pay­ments fur­ther into the fu­ture to “bal­ance” the 2017 bud­get.

The state Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion al­ready has placed the district un­der fi­nan­cial watch sta­tus, which could be a pre­cur­sor to di­rect state con­trol of the district.

Mean­while, sev­eral di­rec­tors have pointed their fin­gers back at the state. They have a point, to a point. The district ap­pears to be un­der­funded rel­a­tive to its highly di­verse and low-in­come de­mo­graph­ics, yet it’s re­mark­able that the board seemed not to have no­ticed that un­til this year.

Vot­ers have im­posed ac­count­abil­ity upon Sheri­dan by dis­miss­ing him. But don’t worry, tax­pay­ers. Sheri­dan says that “even when I’m gone, I’ll still be con­cerned.”

It’s time for Sheri­dan and his col­leagues to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for the bur­geon­ing deficits, adopt a 2018 bud­get that in­cludes the hard de­ci­sions nec­es­sary to stop the deficit me­ter from run­ning wild, or get out of the way and de­fer to state man­age­ment.

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