Athletic programs could be saved next year in the Palmerton Area School District if parent booster clubs can raise enough money to offset a potential 25-percent cut to each program.

That would save the district about $72,000 in the 2011-12 budget, which the school board said would enable it to restore a list of sports programs proposed to be cut and allow it to remain a member of the Colonial League.

Tiffani Christman, president of the Palmerton Youth Wrestling Cheerleading Association, told the board and those in attendance who packed the high school auditorium on Tuesday "want to keep what we already have."

Christman then pitched the idea to cut each athletic program by 25-percent, which she said would allow the district to keep all the athletic programs.

"I want to see 100-percent sports participation," Christman said. "I believe that one swimmer is just as important as 82 members on a football team."

Christman said that rather than eliminate several sports programs, the board should cut funding to each program by 25-percent.

Board President Barry Scherer told the audience that any sports/parents club that would agree to sponsor their respective sport should make the superintendent and business office aware.

It was noted that in order for the district to remain in the Colonial League, it must have 70-percent participation in sporting events. Otherwise, it would have to be part of an independent league.

Superintendent Carol Boyce said the district must be in accordance with Title 9, which says it must balance opportunities for both boys and girls.

"Slots within those sports need to be equal, and the donation of funding must not be out of whack," Boyce said. "There has to be a balance."

But, Director Susan Debski said she wasn't certain the parent booster clubs would be able to come up with all of the money.

"That can add up to a lot of money for parents with children in more than one sport," Debski said.

Christman said that if a foundation needs to be created, then that's what would be done.

Earlier in the meeting, the board unanimously agreed to adopt a resolution to send program chances to the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Boyce said the proposal would cut about 10.5 teaching positions and reduce several extracurricular and athletic programs. Those cuts in teaching staff included kindergarten, English, Technology, Art, Music, and other areas.

Resident Chris Anthony told the board it would be prudent for them to inform the audience as to the extent of the proposed cuts that will be sent to PDE.

But, Scherer said the board was not at liberty to share that information.

"Some of the information includes personnel," Scherer said. "Some of the people affected have not been made aware."

Resident Eric Strohl then asked if he could obtain a redacted version of the proposed cuts.

But, Boyce said PDE "does not require exact names, just exact courses."

Scherer said the names of the people being affected by the cuts will be made public when the board meets at 7 p.m. May 17.

"That's if PDE approves the cuts," Scherer said. "If they don't, we need to go back to the drawing board."

Fourth-grader Lucas Christman told the board "wrestling is fun, and it gives me something to do at night instead of playing video games all night."

"Someday I wish to be a state champion for Palmerton, but you will take away my dream if you cut wrestling," said Lucas, 10. "Please give me this opportunity to be a state champion for Palmerton."

Several residents, including Nicholas Masington and Lori Burke, said they would be willing to pay more in taxes if it meant the district would keep the athletic programs intact.

Scherer said he believes the board can pass next year's budget with a 12.6-percent, or 5.506 mill increase.

But, even with a 5.5 mill increase, the board still would need to come up with an additional $812,000 worth of cuts.

"We feel that we have enough money in cuts to go to the maximum limit," Scherer said. "Next week, we'll go through the cuts at a public meeting."

A 5.5-mill increase would mean a person with a home valued at $100,000 and assessed at $50,000 would pay $2,457, or $277 more in property taxes to the district next year.

After the four-hour-plus school board meeting, the board held a committee workshop, at which time it said it would likely favor a Pay to Play scenario in which it would cost a student $50 to participate in a sport, $100 maximum per year, and a family maximum of $250.

It was agreed the board will hold another budget workshop at 6 p.m. May 12.

Last week, a five-hour budget workshop resulted in just $145,221 worth of cuts, which still left the district with over $1.2 million left to cut in order to approve next year's spending plan with a 6.8-percent, or 3-mill, increase, as previously indicated.

A 3-mill increase would raise the millage rate from 43.64 to 46.64 mills. That would mean a person with a home valued at $100,000 and assessed at $50,000, would pay $2,332, $150 more than the $2,182 rate they paid in 2010-11.

Based on that workshop, $96,025 was proposed to be cut from the district's curriculum budget; $71,975 from high school/junior high school athletics; $28,172 from student activities; $13,700 from facilities; $9,400 from special education; $5,625 from the superintendent; $5,477 from human resources; $2,750 from technology; $1,722 from Towamensing Elementary; $550 from S.S. Palmer Elementary/Parkside Education Center; and $400 from the junior high school. But, $4,715 had to be added into the high school's budget.

Bob Dailey, director of special education, informed the board that the district has seen an increase in the number of special needs students who want to attend the Carbon Career & Technical Institute ($223,443), as well as in-house special education students ($300,000) that resulted in a $523,443 add-on to the budget.

As a result, that meant that only $124,114 was actually proposed to be cut from the budget before the $145,221 in proposed cuts discussed last week. That means just $269,335 has been proposed to be cut, which still leaves $1,284,221 left to be eliminated for the board to reach its goal of $1,553,556 worth of cuts.

The high school athletics programs that were mentioned as potential cuts from next year's budget were wrestling, cross country, swimming, boys' and girls' soccer, golf, and tennis. At the junior high level, wrestling and cross country also would be affected.

Those proposed athletic program cuts resulted in a protest on Monday that saw residents, athletes and others gather outside the Parkside Education Center before an executive session conducted by the school board.

The board is scheduled to adopt a proposed final budget by May 17. Final adoption is due by June 30.

Last month, the board held a four-hour budget workshop, at which time it came up with a potential one-third of the $1.5 million the district needs to cut to approve next year's budget with a 3-mill increase.

At that time, about $454,105 worth of possible cuts were discussed. They included departmental cuts ($167,524); a reduction in high school athletics ($100,000); the elimination of a fifth-grade teaching position at S.S. Palmer Elementary ($56,066); the elimination of five instructional aides – three at S.S. Palmer, one at Towamensing and one at the high school – ($56,000); a reduction in extracurricular activities districtwide ($30,046); the elimination of drug testing funds ($10,000); a reduction in public library support ($3,350); a reduction in overtime for secretaries/bookkeepers ($2,931); the elimination of S.O.A.R.S. funds ($731); and after school library services ($457).

As a result, the board still had to come up with another $1,099,451 worth of cuts to alleviate a $1.5 million shortfall that would still result in a 3-mill increase in next year's spending plan.

In February, the board, on a 5-4 vote, agreed to adopt a $27,388,661 preliminary budget that called for a 12.6-percent, or 5.5-mill increase that if approved, would raise the millage rate from 43.64 to 49.14 mills.

Also last month, the board looked over revised budgets brought forth by the district's administrative team, and were asked to suggest potential tax increases it could support. As part of their revised budgets, the administrative team came up with over $167,000 worth of cuts from their original spending plans.

At that time, Donna Les, who had just been promoted from part-time interim acting business manager to financial consultant, told the board only $730,000 remains in the district's fund balance. Les said that revenues were at $26,187,118, while expenditures were at $27,026,000, which left an $838,882 shortfall.

Les told the school board at a committee workshop last month that about $10,000 had been shaved off the district's preliminary budget. She said at that time the cuts would reduce the proposed spending plan from $27,388,817 to $27,378,655 due to medical insurance budgeted costs ($244,116); an athletic fund transfer ($133,545); and an increase in the IU Special Education Contract ($130,086).

Other areas that were affected were a new technology position ($67,018); add impact of support staff contract ($58,918) cut new part-time secretary ($27,387); and cut facilities vehicle ($21,700), Les previously said.

In January, Les reworked next year's spending plan in order to avoid an additional 2.72-mill increase on top of a 3.56-mill, or 8.15 percent, increase in the 2011-12 preliminary budget the board agreed to advertise for adoption in January.

Otherwise, that would have increased the millage rate from 43.64 to 47.20 mills, which would have meant a person with a home valued at $100,000 and assessed at $50,000 would have paid $2,360, or about $180 more in property taxes next year.

Les told the board at that time that of the $1.7 million the district had in its fund balance, only $730,000 remains after the other $923,000 was used to balance the current year's budget.

The amount of money the district budgeted for its share of the 2011-12 CCTI budget was understated by about $351,060, Les said at that time. Also, the loss of $426,051 in federal program money would have required an additional 2.72-mill increase in the district's preliminary budget, she said.

Les said revisions to next year's preliminary budget increased expenditures $555,498, from $26.8 million to $27.3 million, which represents a 1.95-mill increase over the initial preliminary budget.

Boyce acknowledged at that time that a reconciliation of billing showed that the district has "been significantly under budgeting for the last several years." Les said the reconciliation was completed in November.

In December, the committee met with each of the district's department heads as part of a pair of meetings in its attempt to craft next year's spending plan.

As required by Act 1 of 2006, the board intends to seek approval from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, or the Carbon County Court, for all referendum exceptions for which the district qualifies.

Les told the committee there were several referendum exceptions the district qualified for: special education, retirement contributions, and maintenance of local revenues.

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.