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State Journal: Hard feelings; Rock to the rescue

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An ongoing financial battle between state and local officials in Pennsylvania was exacerbated this month by a confusing snag in the state's system for disbursing school aid.

The trouble arose when the state told school districts that it was crediting them with a scheduled $400-million state subsidy payment on Monday, June 3, and then mysteriously withdrew the funds later the same day. Some local officials said they did not realize the money had been taken back until the next morning.

Sue Grimm, a spokesman for Gov. Robert P. Casey's budget office, said the money was delayed for two reasons. First, state officials needed time to resolve a legislator's questions over the propriety of transferring funds from other sources to the general fund, from which the school payments would come.

The second reason involved a lawsuit by the state school-boards group, which seeks to force the state to immediately pay all of its obligations to districts. Mr. Casey, faced with a $470-billion budget shortfall, had earlier announced plans to make only two-thirds of the scheduled payments on time.

In response to the suit, state officials said they needed time to set aside $50 million from the payments for a fund to help districts in financial distress.

By the time those events had transpired, the banks' payment mechanisms were already in place. The solution was to electronically issue districts the credit and debit notices almost simultaneously. No money was actually transferred to the accounts.

Districts received partial payments totaling $350 million the following Friday.

But the delay, coming after months of fiscal skirmishes with the Governor's office, left some school officials bitter.

"Needless to say," a school-board official said, "there're a lot of hard feelings."

Rock stars, who over the years have raised millions for the victims of hunger and natural disaster, may soon be coming to the aid of California's fiscally pressed school system.

The rock impressario Bill Graham wants to organize musicians on behalf of his state's cash-short schools.

Mr. Graham this month called a meeting of educators and prominent rock-and-rollers to discuss strategy.

"No disrespect to the Kurds' problem and the Bangladesh problem," Mr. Graham said, "but the difference between jungle life and civilized life is education."

Mr. Graham suggested that he and his colleagues create an organization to press for more school funding, and raised the possibility of a benefit concert in the fall.--dv & hd

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