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School district stuck on 1.64 mill tax increase

Published May 25. 2010 05:00PM

There was plenty of number-crunching and dialogue, but in the end, the bottom line on next year's proposed budget in the Palmerton Area School District remains intact.

The 2010-11 budget was discussed at length during a special school board meeting on Monday. Earlier this month, the board on an 8-1 vote granted tentative adoption of the 2010-11 budget, which calls for a 3.9 percent, or 1.64 mill, increase.

At the onset of the budget discussion, Director Carol Dwyer reiterated that her decision to vote against the preliminary budget was driven by the current economic climate.

"We should not be looking to increase the budget, we should be trying to decrease it," Dwyer said. "I was concerned that each school (budget) had increased."

Dwyer then asked each of the building principals to explain why their proposed budgets reflected an increase over the current school year.

Gary Bruch, principal of Towamensing Elementary, said his increase was attributed to $10,800 that was budgeted for the Community Music School, which the district has since agreed to part ways with.

"If you take that out, the (Towamensing) budget would be $1,000 less [than last year]," Bruch said.

Director Susan Debski told Dwyer she had no problem with budgetary increases as long as they benefit the educational process.

"I don't have any problem with the increase," Debski said. "To not increase student spending, I'm not agreeable to that."

Mary Brumbach, principal of S.S. Palmer Elementary and the Parkside Education Center, said her increase was also due to the $10,800 amount set aside for the Community Music School.

Thad Kosciolek, junior high school principal, said he had $5,400 set aside for the music school, as well as $6,022 for risers and student chairs and desks, but added those needs were handled through the McCall grant.

Kathy Egan, high school principal, said her increase was due to microscopes for the new science department labs, as well as $7,500 for a new kiln for the art department.

Debski then questioned why line items in Towamensing Elementary's budget were higher than those at S.S. Palmer/Parkside when Towamensing's student enrollment is nearly half that of Palmer's.

"We should bring you up at S.S. Palmer/Parkside to reflect the population standing," Debski said.

But, Dwyer said the former principal of the Palmer/Parkside buildings was able to get by with a similar budget.

"If she (Brumbach) couldn't, I'm sure she would come to the superintendent," Dwyer said. "Usually at the end of the year, they have money left."

Resident William Ravert then questioned a $70,000 decrease he heard about in the district's maintenance budget.

Superintendent Carol Boyce said the district was able to realize a savings of that amount from the original maintenance budget through utilities, as well as the pricing of natural gas.

Resident JosAnne Harry then asked what the status of the D.A.R.E. program was.

Boyce said the program will not be offered because state funding was not provided.

"It's a matter of concern, quite frankly," Boyce said. "It's a very critical circumstance."

Resident Dawn Brinker then asked if the district had enough money in the athletic budget to purchase a scoreboard for the girls' softball team at the Seventh Street Field. Boyce said the district does not.

Debski then said she took exception to the $3,000 cost to wash high school football uniforms.

But, Egan told Debski the uniforms needed to be professionally laundered.

Resident Cindy Gasper then asked if any of the security cameras were budgeted for. Boyce said not this year.

Dwyer suggested the board check prices to see how much it would cost to install security cameras along the side of the junior high building.

In its current incarnation, the $26,589,136 spending plan would raise the millage rate from 42 to 43.64 mills. The maximum the board can raise the property tax rate under the Act 1 index is by 1.64 mills.

That would mean a person with a home valued at $100,000, and assessed at $50,000, would pay $2,182 in property taxes to the district next year, $82 more than this year's $2,100 rate.

Salaries and benefits are set to increase by $229,141, from $15,205,016 in 2009-10 to $15,434,157 in 2010-11.

However, the amount of grants the district will receive will decrease by $28,210, from $1,187,527 in 2009-10 to $1,159,317in 2010-11.

Final adoption of the budget is expected at the board's June 15 meeting.

Last year, the district adopted a budget for the 2009-10 school year that called for a 2.44 percent, or 1 mill, increase.

The $25,488,593 spending plan raised the millage rate from 41 to 42 mills. That meant a person who owned a $100,000 home, which was assessed at $50,000, paid $2,100, or $50 more, to the district in property taxes.

Before that, the last time the district raised property taxes was in the 2007-08 school year, when it passed a budget with a 2.5 percent increase.

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