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Administrative position is furloughed

  • TERRY AHNER/TIMES NEWS Members of the Save Our Sports committee present Palmerton Area School Board President Barry Scherer (left) with a check in the amount of $46,351.
    TERRY AHNER/TIMES NEWS Members of the Save Our Sports committee present Palmerton Area School Board President Barry Scherer (left) with a check in the amount of $46,351.
Published June 08. 2011 05:35PM

An administrative position, along with several secretary and custodian positions, have been furloughed in the Palmerton Area School District in an effort to pare down next year's budget.

However, a decision to cut instructional staff members was tabled by the school board as part of a special meeting on Tuesday, with a vote expected to be made at another special board meeting to be held next week.

The item to furlough instructional staff members would have resulted in the loss of 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.

Prior to that decision, director Clarence Myers asked whether the board could amend the motion to see how much it would cost the district to retain the positions related to full-day kindergarten and instrumental music.

That motion passed on a 7-1 vote, with director Susan Debski opposed. Director Carol Dwyer was absent.

Superintendent Carol Boyce then asked the board to take a brief recess to discuss the request. Once the board returned to the public session, board President Barry Scherer said the motion wasn't that simple.

"It's not simply a matter of dividing the people by the numbers," Scherer said. "We would need a motion A and a motion B."

The board announced it would hold a special meeting at 6 p.m. June 15 to vote on the matter.

It did, however, vote to cut an administrative position, along with 1.5, or the equivalent of three part-time secretaries; two full-time and two part-time custodians, and six instructional assistants, effective July 1, 2011.

After the meeting, Superintendent Carol Boyce declined to name which administrative position was cut. However, Boyce said that information would likely be shared at a later date.

In a related matter, the board accepted, with gratitude, the donation of $46,351 from the Save Our Sports group for the restoration of the senior high/junior high sports programs for the 2011-12 school year.

Members of the SOS committee presented the board with a check in that amount.

Tiffani Christman, president of the Palmerton Youth Wrestling Cheerleading Association, thanked everyone in the group, as well as those in the community who donated toward the cause.

Scherer, on behalf of the board, lauded everyone involved in the endeavor.

"Thank you, Tiff, and all the members of the SOS, and the youngsters," Scherer said. "This will allow us to reinstate all the sports programs and cheerleading."

In April, the board suggested cuts to the district's athletic programs that would have eliminated high school wrestling, cross country, swimming, boys' and girls' soccer, golf, tennis, junior high wrestling and cross country, and two cheerleading positions.

As per its request, the SOS will set up a separate account for the funds so that once the budgeted monies are depleted, the money raised won't be able to be transferred to the district's general fund.

The board then fielded various requests under the public participation portion of the meeting.

Fourth-grader Lucas Christman asked the board to save the district's instrumental music programs.

"Please do not take away instrumental music," Lucas said. "Please save our music and our teachers too."

Tiffany Christman then asked why the board wouldn't consider placing the $942,000 it expects to receive from the state into the 2011-12 budget.

Donna Les, who earlier in the meeting was appointed as half-time interim business manager, confirmed that the district will at some point receive the $942,000 in state subsidy.

"I don't know what the status (of the $942,000) is," Les said. "The district will get it at some point, I just don't know that it will get it by June 30."

The board is scheduled to grant final adoption to the 2011-12 budget when it meets at 7 p.m. June 21. By state law, it has until June 30 to pass the budget.

Debski told Christman "to count on something that might not come to me is irresponsible."

Christman then asked if the positions could be saved if the money would arrive before June 30.

Boyce said "that would be up to the board to deliberate at that time to make that decision."

Resident Christopher Anthony once again implored the board to "make a stand on instrumental music."

"What I believe this administration has done with this budget is take the easy way out by making 10-percent cuts across the board," Anthony said. "While this district is cutting student programs, it's increasing administration."

Anthony then suggested that based on its budget crisis, the district doesn't need a director of human resources, nor a director of curriculum and instruction.

"This board has to determine is instrumental music more of a priority than a director of human resources and a director of curriculum and instruction," Anthony said. "The public just wants to know what those priorities are."

Anthony then asked the board whether it wanted its legacy to be "the board that extinguished instrumental music in our schools."

Resident Marion Hoffner said she believes the district wouldn't have to furlough as many teachers if it would utilize the $942,000 it expects to receive from the state.

"I think you've heard many passionate pleas by the public," Hoffner said. "The district needs to restore the instrumental music program; we should be looking to add more music, not take away."

Les reiterated that the money the district will receive is a "one time and done deal," and, therefore, cannot recommend to the board to "put that money in because I don't know when they're going to get it."

"It would be wonderful if I could come in and tell the board we got the money," Les said. "I can't do that."

Resident Chrissy Rehatchek said she was told by the board that she cannot raise money to save the instrumental music program.

"My daughter's losing faith," Rehatcheck said. "She doesn't think she can have any fun."

Resident Richard Nothstein told the board it is its responsibility to budget accordingly.

"You're asking our kids to balance the budget; it's not their responsibility," Nothstein said. "When did we stop taking a chance on kids?"

Afterward, Les updated the board on the status of the budget at a committee workshop that followed.

She said that while $52,312 will be utilized to balance the budget, it will still require a 12.6-percent, or 5.506-mill, increase.

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 a spending plan 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.

Other 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 - a reduction in staffing costs ($1,245,945); and to eliminate all curriculum writing and summer maintenance.

The proposed budget also 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).

Scherer previously 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 one 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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