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School Districts May Keep Schools Closed After Break

GREENVILLE, Pa. (KDKA/AP) - Some Western Pennsylvania school districts say they may not reopen after the Christmas break if the state budget impasse continues.

Officials from the Greenville Area and Sharpsville area school districts they're running out of money because state subsidies are tied up while Gov. Tom Wolf and state lawmakers spar over a budget now more than five months overdue.

Both districts say at least 60 percent of their budgets comes from state funds.

Greenville Superintendent Mark Ferrara says his district is in "a very precarious position."

The school board is planning a special meeting next week to discuss closing the schools instead of borrowing money that could cost the district six figures in interest and other fees.

Sharpsville administrators are also discussing a possible closure.

"It's catastrophic," Burgettstown Area School District superintendent Dr. Jim Walsh told KDKA political editor Jon Delano on Wednesday.

Since July, school districts like Burgettstown have not received their monthly state subsidy to operate their public schools.

Delano: "Have you run out of money?"

Walsh: "Not quite. It's getting close. We estimate with our two upcoming payroll dates that we will be out of money by the 31st."

Delano: "31st of December?"

Walsh: "Right."

The hallways of the Burgettstown Area Middle High School were crowded with students on Wednesday, but they could be completely empty after the Christmas holiday.

On Monday, the school board debated whether to take out loans at a greater cost to taxpayers or close school doors in January until legislators reach a deal with the governor.

"I will tell you that it was an emotional discussion on Monday. and at that point most of the board members seemed to lean towards closing," says school board president Tom Repole.

Repole says legislators are putting school districts between a rock and a hard place.

"If we have to go and look at a couple million dollars in a loan to fund this only for a couple more months, then there'll be fees, there'll be losing costs, there'll be interest."

"And we'll have go back eventually and put it into the budget probably next year, and the only way we're going to get money to pay those fees back is to raise taxes," adds Repole.

Raising taxes or closing school doors -- not an easy choice but a necessary one for a number of school districts, says Walsh.

"Come January 4th, the kids would have extended break, and we would wait state funding."

The board will make a final decision on December 21st.

As for the legislators who refuse to compromise, says local Burgettstown resident Bill Robinson, "They're sure not acting in the best interest of the people who voted and put them in there."

Over in Westmoreland County, the budget impasse is also having an impact on their food bank. Officials with the organization say they will now have to begin reducing the amount of food they give out until they begin getting funding again.

Beginning in January, they say these items will have to be cut from from their food packages: one canned vegetable item, spaghetti sauce, spaghetti, shelf stable milk and potatoes.

In a press release, the Westmoreland County Food Bank CEO Kris Douglas says: "This has become quite the perfect storm. We have taken from our reserves to continue to provide the quality and quantity of services for our consumers, but at this point, we just can't keep up. We know that this is a very difficult time in our world and we are here doing our best to help our neighbors in need, but we have had to make the tough decision to begin reducing the amount of food that is given until we receive the funds from the state."

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(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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