The Tamaqua Area School District is beginning to look at its 2011-12 budget.

Connie Ligenza, the district's business manager, reviewed the timeline for the budget with the school board's finance committee on Tuesday night.

Ligenza stated that federal stimulus money is now gone, and school districts are being advised to plan for an 11 percent reduction in basic education funding for 2011-12. "For us, that would mean $700,000 less," she said.

In addition, the district may have to do without funding some other line items for its budget.

In recent years, Tamaqua Area has begin preparing its tentative budget in January in order to adopt a preliminary plan in February. Final approval would be by June 30, the end of the 2010-11 fiscal year.

That would mean putting together a budget without knowing what the district's subsidy from the commonwealth would be, said Ligenza. Some other large line items, such as insurance costs, would not be available until later as well and would need to be estimated.

"A January budget would be very preliminary," she said.

An advantage of preparing a bugget early is that the district can apply for exceptions from the Pennsylvania Department of Education in certain areas, over and above the established index.

"This year it (Tamaqua Area's index) is low at 1.4 percent," said Ligenza. "That means the maximum taxes could be raised without the exceptions is .63 mills, or $168,000."

The district's budget for the current school year is $27.5 million and included a 1.25 mill real estate tax increase, Tamaqua Area's first in four years. The millage rate stands at 33.36.

In order to apply for the exceptions, the district would have to show a need for them. In the past, Tamaqua Area has applied for exceptions in areas such as special education and retirement funding.

The school board can also pass a resolution not to increase its taxes above the index.

If the district wants to raise taxes above the index, it would need to put the question as a referendum on the ballot for the primary election, hence the need to approve a tentative spending plan 90 days prior to the election in February.

With retirement rate increases looming for 2013, Ligenza recommended keeping the door open "because of the unknowns and potential revenue shortfalls."

Ligenza said the board should consider voting on its budget timeline for its December meeting.

PPL rebates

The district has received some good financial news.

Ligenza announced that Tamaqua Area has received Act 1 rebates from PPL Utilities for particpating in its guaranteed energy savings program, which included installation of geothermal heating at the high school and retrofitting lighting in other district buildings.

"We have been awarded five of the six rebates we are due, and that amounts approximately to $85,000, she said.

Michael Fegley of Fast Fill presented Elementary Principal Steven Behr with a check for $$750 from the Exxon-Mobil Foundation. Behr had applied for the $750 math and science grant, which he said is planned for use to purchase library books.

In other business, the auxiliary committee approved the addition ot a middle school eighth grade class advisor position, at the district's standard stipend of $325. The board will vote on the recommendation at its Nov. 16 meeting.

The education committee approved a first reading of policy updates regarding the use of school facilities, auditorium regulations, facility use fees and auditorium equipment requests.

Superintendent Carol Makuta explained that the updated policies include provisions for the establishment of two new positions: audio manager and student stage hand.

She said that when the district auditorium is used by outside organizations, the stage manager is paid a fee by that group. The stage manager has been using stage hands and getting the outside agency to pay those fees,

"These changes will acknowledge those positions," said Makuta, who said a stipend is involved with the positions. The provisions also note fees for the use of the auditorium equipment.