Some state senators would like to give school districts the option to let teachers go because of economic reasons.

Furloughing tenured teachers is allowed in Pennsylvania only because of an enrollment drop or because of consolidation, or because a program has been cut back in size.

York City, for instance, furloughed about two dozen teachers a year ago because of a secondary enrollment drop.

But districts have not been able to furlough teachers simply because they don't have enough money, something state Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon, would like to see change.

Folmer and Sen. Jeffrey Piccola, R-Dauphin, are among those introducing legislation to give districts the option to do economically driven furloughs.

"I just want to give them an option," Folmer said. "We've got to get these costs under control. We can't keep on going to the taxpayer."

Act quickly: Folmer said districts are facing such difficult budget decisions right now that he'd like to have the bill approved as soon as possible.

But he faces stiff opposition by the Pennsylvania State Education Association, which supports teachers' unions.

"If economic furloughs are allowed to take place, then basically it becomes an arbitrary decision by a school board as to what constitutes an economic reason," said PSEA spokesman Wythe Keever.

Some districts might use such power judiciously, but Keever said PSEA is worried about school boards that are focused more on keeping property taxes low than on quality education.


Larger classes, fewer course offerings and fewer opportunities to help students could be possible outcomes, Keever warned.

"The worry is that a low-wealth district that is hard-pressed for revenues would take a short-sighted approach and make furloughs," Keever said.

Folmer said good teachers "would have nothing to fear."

'Gigantic concern': C.J. Elder, a lawyer representing Dallastown teachers, disagrees and thinks economic furloughs would be a "gigantic concern" for teachers.

About two dozen Dallastown teachers may be furloughed soon. The district has a $4.4 million deficit and decided it would pursue furloughs after teachers refused to accept a wage freeze.

With economic furloughs unavailable and enrollment steady, the district would have to cut or eliminate programs to justify the furloughs.

"(Teachers) are going to be the first place they are going to look for cuts. I think that would be destructive to districts," Elder said of economic furloughs.