Published: April 29, 2011 1:30 AM EST
Updated: April 29, 2011 5:40 AM EST
Corbett: Colleges could ease financial woes with Marcellus drilling
By SEAN McCRACKEN, Erie Times-News
EDINBORO — Gov. Tom Corbett defended his proposed budget in his first visit to Erie County as the state’s chief executive, and said some universities could make up for the loss of state funds by opening their campuses to natural-gas drilling.
Speaking at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania at a conference for the trustees from the 14 Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education schools, Corbett said six universities on the Marcellus shale formation could open to drilling.
“We’re working with state Representative Matt Baker to find a safe way for the state schools to harvest the benefits of these mineral rights,” Corbett said, referring to the Tioga County Republican.
“We need to think different. We need to act differently.”
Corbett’s proposed 2011-12 budget includes a $2 billion decrease in education funding and 50 percent reduction in aid to colleges and universities. That includes $220 million in aid eliminated from PASSHE’s state allocation and $182 million cut from the Pennsylvania State University system’s allocation.
Corbett said the drilling wouldn’t be a complete solution, calling it “a cornerstone of the state’s economic recovery, but not the cornerstone.”
The state Democratic Party was quick to pan Corbett’s suggestion.
“This ridiculous plan again shows that no matter what the issue, the profits and best interests of his largest benefactors (gas drillers) are never far from Tom Corbett’s mind,” said state party Chairman Jim Burn in a statement.
Calling the upcoming budget an opportunity to “reinvent” the PASSHE system, Corbett gave a list of reforms he’d like to see in state-funded colleges and universities.
Beyond opening some campuses to Marcellus shale drilling, Corbett said he would also like to lift regulations that forbid faculty from spawning businesses out of their work at universities, and private fundraising by university administrators.
Corbett criticized college students and faculty who have protested the cuts, saying such comments are premature.
“A lot of students and professors choose not to understand that it’s a proposal,” Corbett said. “What’s most important to me is we have the number $27.3 billion for our budget. I’m open to discussion on how that’s spent.”
State Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis was also in Erie County, defending K-12 public-education funding to local school administrators who gathered at Blasco Library.
Tomalis said that statewide teacher evaluations and development will have a larger effect on education than the $2 billion in proposed cuts.
“There’s more to it than money,” Tomalis said.
Tomalis, who worked in the Pennsylvania Department of Education during the Tom Ridge administration and the U.S. Department of Education during George W. Bush’s tenure, was officially confirmed as state education secretary earlier this week.
He said many school districts could overcome both academic and financial issues by revisiting collective bargaining agreements for teachers and by instituting merit-based pay. “There is no state law that would bar merit pay from happening today,” Tomalis said.
“Why is it such radical thinking in education that we try to identify who are effective teachers?”
Tomalis said one of his goals will be to create a statewide teacher evaluation system and increasing the public accountability for schools by publishing district report cards based on achievement and school climate.
He even suggested that he would like to pursue a policy to send underachieving new teachers back to college for more training on the college or university’s tab.
About 125 members of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, a union representing teachers, rallied outside the library to protest the proposed cuts.
“We just want to express our displeasure with the governor’s budget,” regional PSEA Vice President Kevin Kantz said. “There are a lot of good programs that are going to get cut.”