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District considers pulling money from fund balance

Published June 02. 2011 05:00PM

Palmerton Area School District could pull from its fund balance to offset a projected $52,000 shortfall in next year's budget.

The school board held yet another budget workshop on Wednesday, just three weeks shy of the anticipated final adoption of the 2011-12 spending plan.

A special meeting for financial and personnel considerations that was scheduled to take place before the budget workshop was canceled, board President Barry Scherer said.

The cancellation of the special meeting was posted on the front door outside the high school, as well as on the district's web site. The special meeting will not be rescheduled, Scherer said.

Donna Les, financial consultant, told the board the district could have an estimated fund balance of $1.2 million.

"My recommendation is that the district utilize $52,000 from its fund balance to balance the budget and not look at any other cuts," Les said. "The 2012-13 budget is probably going to be worse yet."

Les said the district is owed $900,000 from the state that may or may not arrive in time for the state-mandated June 30 final budget adoption. The board is scheduled to grant final adoption when it meets at 7 p.m. June 21.

The board then reviewed the district's athletic budget, at which time Les said the board would need $2,731 to reinstitute tennis and $4,072 to reinstitute two cheerleading positions back into next year's budget.

Tiffani Christman, president of the Palmerton Youth Wrestling Cheerleading Association, told the board the Save Our Sports Committee - which initially was able to raise $43,469 through donations to save various sports programs - could likely come through.

"The difference in those, we can find the dollars," Christman said. "The SOS can come up with the $2,731."

Scherer confirmed that, as per their request, the SOS could set up a separate account for the funds so that once the budgeted monies are depleted, the money it raised wouldn't be transferred to the district's general fund.

Christman said the SOS would present the board with several checks at its June 7 committee workshop that would total $46,351 to save the various sports programs - as well as tennis and the two cheerleading positions - from being cut next year.

Director Michael Ballard then suggested that some method be derived so that the instrumental music programs that are currently proposed to be cut could be saved.

Resident Christopher Anthony, a former school director, said that the district needs to do a better job with its instrumental music programs.

"I'm concerned, because there are more administrative positions now than eight to 10 years ago when I was on the board," Anthony said. "If there's a way to make music work in the district, then that needs to be considered."

Director Carl Bieling noted "it does seem that when times get tough, it's music and the arts and sports that go."

Les reiterated that the 2012-13 budget will be a real challenge to construct.

"As hard as the 2011-12 budget was, 12-13 will be a lot worse," Les said. "I just don't want you to walk away from this budget thinking everything's fine when it will be much worse next year."

Resident Josann Harry questioned why the board continued to borrow from its fund balance to avoid large tax increases in previous years.

"The community is very confused; you're raising taxes 5.506 mills, and yet cutting programs," Harry said. "You can't expect the community to do that every single year."

Superintendent Carol Boyce noted that if the exceptions the district qualifies for this year are not available next year, there will be a $200,000 increase over the index.

Anthony again suggested that the board look to reduce its administrative staff, to which Boyce said it has.

"In each area, about 10-percent of the employees are being cut, and there's reshuffling of duties and sharing of responsibilities," Boyce said. "I know it's something no one here has taken lightly."

Scherer then asked whether there was a consensus of the seven directors on hand to take $100,000 out of the fund balance to fund instrumental music.

While some of the directors said they would favor that approach, several other directors appeared non-committal.

Boyce then asked where else the board should look to cut, and added that it was essential to see what has the "least greatest impact on the most amount of kids."

Last month, the board, on a 7-2 vote, agreed to grant proposed final adoption to the 2011-12 proposed budget, which calls for a 12.6 percent, or 5.506-mill, increase.

If the board were to approve the 2011-12 budget with a 5.506-mill increase, that would raise the millage rate from 43.64 to 49.14 mills. That 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.

The proposed budget calls for a reduction in department and building budgets ($201,920); an increase to the Special Education budget ($403,086); an increase to the CCTI budget ($ 223,443); a reduction in Donation to the Palmerton Public Library ($3,350); a reduction in student activity program offerings ($38,561); a reduction in athletic program offerings ($66,300); and administrative and confidential staff unconditional pay freeze ($36,542).

Budget adjustments through grant elimination would include: Dual Enrollment Tuition ($8,411); Education Assistance Program ($50,237), which would mean the elimination of after school tutoring, supplemental programs, supplies, and staff development; Accountability Block Grant ($293,744), which would entail the elimination of after school programs, summer program, substitutes for staff meetings, supplies, software, curriculum writing, conferences and professional services; and a reduction in staffing costs ($1,245,945) to not fill two vacant teaching positions; to reduce one teaching position to 80 percent; to furlough 12 teaching positions; to furlough 10.5 support staff positions; to furlough one administrative position; to eliminate all curriculum writing; and to eliminate summer maintenance.

Scherer said at that time the proposed cuts would include five high school teachers; 4.5 elementary teachers; one elementary teacher and one high school teacher through attrition; four teacher specialists, three at the elementary level, and one at the high school level; 1.5, or the equivalent of three part-time, secretaries; two full-time and two part-time custodians; six instructional assistants, and one administrator.

He said the 2011-12 estimated class sizes at S.S. Palmer Parkside is as follows: kindergarten, four teachers, two classes of 20 students and two classes of 21 students; first grade, four teachers, with four classes of 21; second grade, four teachers, with two classes of 18 and two classes of 19; third grade, three teachers, with two classes of 28, and one class of 29; fourth grade, three teachers, with two classes of 30 and one class of 31; fifth grade, three teachers, with two classes at 29 and one class of 30; and sixth grade, four teachers, with three classes of 28 and one class of 29.

The 2011-12 estimated class sizes at Towamensing, Scherer said, is as follows: kindergarten, one teacher, with two classes of 22 students; first grade, two teachers, with one class of 19 and one class of 20; second grade, three teachers, with three classes of 20; third grade, two teachers, with one class of 22 and once class of 23; fourth grade, two teachers, with two classes of 33; fifth grade, three teachers, with one class of 21 and two classes of 22; and sixth grade, two teachers, with two classes of 27.

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.

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