Considering the current difficult financial climate, the budget for the 200-11 school year was passed smoothly by the Jim Thorpe School Board at its regularly scheduled meeting on Monday. The vote was five to two and two abstaining.
The no votes cast by Ellen Kattner and Gerald Strubinger reflected a belief that the budget did not resolve impending financial issues. "We did not work hard enough on this budget," said Strubinger.
Although the budget passed, consensus was shared by the board that difficult decisions had been avoided. These decisions revolve around how the district will factor in decreased funding from a state government that is "flat-lining" education spending, in the words of Board Member Randall Smith.
Smith noted that a range of options, such as Hiring and Wage freezes, and cuts to the athletic department and non special education services had not been addressed in the current budget. "We spent a lot of time making easy decisions but this board did not have the temperament for hard ones," he said.
Wage freezes were only one of the cut options presented to the board for consideration in the current budget. As School Superintendent Barbara Conway noted, options for cuts to various departments had also been presented.
As stated by Board Member Dennis McGinley, the deepest interest of the Board was to create a workable budget without having to impact jobs. However, he also noted that unless jobs are cut or wages frozen, "there is not much fat to cut from the budget."
In order to avoid the fate of the Easton School District, which has had to initiate lay-offs to make budget, the Jim Thorpe Board has begun to discuss the possibility of a temporary wage-freeze for all its employees. For those in a union, this would be a voluntary action. As Kattner stated, "give them an option, freeze wages or lose your job."
These potential negations will take time. Strubinger stated that next year's budget will require a very early start in order to be successful. That means that work will begin on it as early as this summer. Kattner was named tentative board representative to meet and negotiate with union representatives.
Kattner also created a small controversy while voicing her dissatisfaction with the current budget. She cited a deficit of one dollar, although she then acknowledged that it was caused by the routine practice of rounding up change.
Kattner also brought up a supposed $50,000 deficit in the budget. Lauren Kovacs, the Jim Thorpe District Business Manager and School Board Secretary, explained that the deficit existed only in a preliminary draft of the budget.
The discrepancy was created due to the fact that line by line changes were made during a previous meeting and that a new copy of the budget was created which had not factored those changes. Kovacs assured the Board that the discrepancy had been factored out of the official budget report.