Necessity is the "Mother of Invention" and school districts throughout the Commonwealth are getting as inventive as possible to deal with projected shortfalls to their budgets, caused by reductions in state subsidies.
That is certainly evident in the Tamaqua Area School District. Faced with a $2.4 million deficit, the Tamaqua Area Board of Education has proposed a number of cost cutting measures, designed, according to TASD Superintendent Carol Makuta, to "cut costs while providing good solutions for our students." There's the usual reduction of personnel, salary freezes, postponement of maintenance/capitol projects and elimination of certain extra-curricular activities, but the board is also proposing the creation of a "Winter Schedule" to save money and a "one stop" bus transportation policy.
While the majority of proposed changes are strictly up to the board and administration, the creation of a Winter Schedule, or a change in school hours, needs the approval of the Tamaqua Education Association, the teacher's union. Union members were provided with detailed information concerning the new schedule, which would have students in classes four days a week for 15 weeks during the Winter months. The fifth day would be an Act 180 day, where the professional staff would be required to work. The other proposed change to the schedule would see students ending the school day one half hour later than they do now, or reporting to school 15 minutes earlier and ending the day 15 minutes later. Time of school day changes would result in some elementary school students getting home around 5 p.m., while some secondary students would need to get on their bus at 5:50 a.m. This change will save the district an estimated $98,160.
Other proposed changes, as found on the district's website, include the reduction of 10 professional staff members who have/are either retiring or leaving the district. This includes a senior high school guidance counselor, a high school social studies teacher, a high school business teacher, one elementary/PSSA prep teacher and six elementary teachers. This will save the district an estimated $850,000. A professional employee salary freeze, a change in the professional employee credit re-imbursement level, a professional development freeze, an administrative salary freeze, an advisor/coach salary freeze and a salary freeze for non contract employees is estimated to save the district an additional $516,350. A reduction of one maintenance, one custodial and one secretarial employee will save another $90,000. These changes were all announced previously by the district.
An additional $103,278 in savings could be realized if the district creates a new, one stop bus policy, eliminates program/activity transportation and eliminates several varsity sports.
The Tamaqua Education Association, according to President Frank Wenzel, realizes the need for cost cutting measures, but has one caveat. "We are willing to work with the district administration to balance the budget, but not at the expense of the students. The initial budget report stated it would not be necessary to make further reductions; however, this is apparently not the case. At its next meeting, the school board will consider some very drastic proposals such as creating a winter schedule, changing school hours, eliminating music, art, physical education, technology and library classes all at the elementary level. Additionally, the high school library may be closed, foreign language programs may be affected, while cutting some varsity sports. Parents and taxpayers need to attend the school board meeting this Wednesday. The school board's proposals will greatly harm the quality education for a long time in this district. Our students will be placed at a great disadvantage if the board chooses to implement these draconian proposals.The future of our school district is at stake and parents should be very concerned for their children," added Wenzel.
School Superintendent Makuta noted "The school district provides a great deal more than the Pennsylvania Department of Education's Chapter 4 requires. We are looking at what types of cuts the PDE will allow. We can no longer afford to offer everything we have in the past. This board has promised the taxpayers there will not be a tax increase. As with every other segment of society, we must find ways to cut costs and keep within our budget. We need to stay level headed, and work together, because we are talking about the education of our children."
The TEA hasn't officially voted on the proposals, which will be presented to the board for consideration at this month's regular meeting. The meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, at 7:30 p.m.