As expected, residents who live in the Palmerton Area School District will see a 12.6-percent increase in their property tax rates next year.
Perhaps an unexpected twist may have occurred Tuesday when the school board agreed to restore both instructional music and extended day kindergarten into the 2011-12 budget.
On a 5-4 vote, the board agreed to adopt the final budget in the amount of $26,595,297, which calls for a 5.506-mill increase that will raise the millage rate from 43.64 to 49.14 mills.
That means a person with a home valued at $100,000 and assessed at $50,000 will pay $2,457, or $277 more in property taxes to the district next year.
Directors Darlene Yeakel, Michael Ballard, Carl Bieling, Clarence Myers and board President Barry Scherer voted in favor. Directors Carol Dwyer, Stuart Henritzy, Tina Snyder and Susan Debski were opposed.
A prior motion to approve a $26,476,773 budget that would have reinstated instrumental music only, and not extended day kindergarten, was defeated by a 5-4 margin. On that vote, Dwyer, Henritzy, Snyder, Debski and Bieling were opposed, with Yeakel, Ballard, Myers and Scherer in favor.
Donna Les, financial consultant, said the district had to take $272,486 out of the fund balance to restore the instructional music and extended day kindergarten programs, which leaves the fund balance at $906,609.
As a result, the board voted to keep two full time and one half-time elementary teachers, along with one full time and one half-time music teacher.
However, the board agreed to furlough two elementary teachers, three high school English teachers, one high school business teacher, a physical education/health/gifted teacher, and to cut an art teacher's hours to 80 percent.
The board's decision to adopt the budget with the restoration of instrumental music and extended day kindergarten garnered a rousing applause from the audience.
Deborah Smith expressed her gratefulness to the board for its decision, but questioned why the district underbudgeted in previous years.
"Thank you very, very much for voting to keep kindergarten and music," Smith said. "Wouldn't it make sense to raise taxes a little at a time each year, instead of getting socked with one big increase?"
Scherer told Smith the 2012-13 budget could present perhaps an even greater challenge than the 2011-12 spending plan.
"Next year, we may be in worse shape than we were in this year," Scherer said.
Instructors Diane Morgan and Holly Sell also heaped praise on the board.
Earlier this month, the board agreed to cut an administrative position, along with 1.5, or the equivalent of three part-time secretaries; two full-time and two part-time custodians, and six instructional assistants, effective July 1, 2011.
The cuts were needed to help offset $1,153,004 less in federal and state funding, Les said at that time. She said at that time $52,312 will be utilized to balance the budget.
Other budget adjustments through grant elimination include Dual Enrollment Tuition ($8,411); Education Assistance Program ($50,237) – which means the elimination of after school tutoring, supplemental programs; supplies; and staff development – Accountability Block Grant ($293,744) – which entails the elimination of after school programs, summer program, substitutes for staff meetings, supplies, software, curriculum writing, conferences and professional services – a reduction in staffing costs ($1,245,945); and the elimination of all curriculum writing and summer maintenance.
The budget also calls for a reduction in department and building budgets ($201,920); an increase to the Special Education budget ($403,086); an increase to the CCTI budget ($ 223,443); a reduction in donation to the Palmerton Public Library ($3,350); a reduction in student activity program offerings ($38,561); a reduction in athletic program offerings ($66,300); and administrative and confidential staff unconditional pay freeze ($36,542).
Scherer previously said the 2011-12 estimated class sizes at S.S. Palmer/Parkside is as follows: kindergarten, four teachers, two classes of 20 students and two classes of 21 students; first grade, four teachers, with four classes of 21; second grade, four teachers, with two classes of 18 and two classes of 19; third grade, three teachers, with two classes of 28, and one class of 29; fourth grade, three teachers, with two classes of 30 and one class of 31; fifth grade, three teachers, with two classes at 29 and one class of 30; and sixth grade, four teachers, with three classes of 28 and one class of 29.
The 2011-12 estimated class sizes at Towamensing, Scherer said, is as follows: kindergarten, one teacher, with two classes of 22 students; first grade, two teachers, with one class of 19 and one class of 20; second grade, three teachers, with three classes of 20; third grade, two teachers, with one class of 22 and one class of 23; fourth grade, two teachers, with two classes of 33; fifth grade, three teachers, with one class of 21 and two classes of 22; and sixth grade, two teachers, with two classes of 27.
This year, homeowners saw a 3.9 percent, or 1.64-mill increase, in their property tax rates after the board in June approved the 2010-11 budget on a 5-4 vote that raised the millage rate from 42 to 43.64 mills.
That meant a person with a home valued at $100,000, which was assessed at $50,000, paid $2,182 in property taxes to the district, $82 more than the $2,100 rate they paid in 2009-10 when the board passed a budget with a 2.44 percent, or 1 mill, increase that resulted in a $50 increase for residents with the same home value.