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Palmerton residents face 12.6 percent tax hike

Published May 18. 2011 05:17PM

Residents who live in the Palmerton Area School District will likely see a 12.6 percent increase in their property tax rates next year.

The school board on a 7-2 vote on Tuesday agreed to grant proposed final adoption to the 2011-12 proposed budget, which calls for a 5.506-mill increase. Directors Carl Bieling and Carol Dwyer were opposed.

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.

Tiffani Christman, president of the Palmerton Youth Wrestling Cheerleading Association, addressed the board.

"On behalf of the Save Our Sports committee, I would like to thank the board for allowing us to come up with the needed funds to keep all the sports programs," Christman said. "We would also like to save tennis, but can't due to the court conditions."

Christman said that six board members made donations, and specifically thanked Director Sue Debski. In addition, she noted the Northwestern Lehigh wrestling team donated a check and included a note that said 'Go Bombers'.

All told, the donations mean there will be a $66,300 savings to the district, Christman said. Also, she said in the athletic budget, there is a line item in the amount of $2,500 to golf at the Blue Ridge Country Club. However, she said Blue Ridge Country Club has said it would be willing to reduce their fee to only $500.

Christman told the board high school athletic director/Associate Principal Bill Congdon has indicated that $22,831 in athletic budget cuts could be made. That, coupled with the $43,469 the Save Our Sports committee was able to raise means all the sports except for tennis will be able to be reinstated into next year's budget.

Christman told the board the committee would like to see a separate account set up 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.

"It has truly been amazing what our community has accomplished in just 12 days without selling one candy bar or one raffle ticket," she said. "Today, I'm proud to be a Palmerton Blue Bomber, and today, we saved our sports."

Christman then received a standing round of applause from the audience.

Board President Barry Scherer praised Christman, as well as the entire Save Our Sports committee and the community, for their efforts.

Scherer said the board will need to talk to its financial consultant and attorney "for the legality of setting up a separate account."

In addition, Scherer noted that the proposed budget already has the athletic program cuts in it. Despite that, he said the board must still come up with another $28,000 worth of cuts in order to meet next year's proposed $26,143,747 budget, which represents a $340,568 decrease over this year's spending plan.

Donna Les, financial consultant, said the district has an estimated $730,022 in fund balance.

Before the board's vote, Brad Landis, president of the Palmerton Area Education Association, voiced several concerns with the proposed budget.

"Our teaching staff, with the proposed loss of over 14 teachers, need to know how it will impact class sizes at all levels, as well as the cuts that were sent to PDE (State Department of Education)," Landis said. "Right now, we're all in the dark; we need to get out of the dark."

Scherer 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.

Landis also asked how the proposed budget would affect the junior high and high school grade levels, to which Scherer said he wasn't certain, as the board was still waiting for PDE approval.

Superintendent Carol Boyce said PDE "estimates working on a five to 10 day turnaround."

Landis then asked how the proposed cuts to the district's teaching staff would directly impact the students.

"As a taxpayer, I'm floored that so many teachers would be left go," Landis said. "I believe maintaining our teachers should be the board's main priority."

Meanwhile, Landis noted that the district's central administration has continued to grow over the years.

Scherer then gave a breakdown of the proposed cuts, which 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 elemtary 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 also noted "there will be reassignments as far as the administrative staff is concerned."

Holly Sell, an instructor at Parkside Education Center, said she was concerned with increased class sizes.

"The class sizes have me extremely concerned," Sell said. "I haven not seen class sizes like this in 10 years."

In addition, Sell said she ws concerned with the proposed cuts to full-day kindergarten at both buildings.

"I know the budget is a tough situation, but I do believe there are alternative cuts that have to be made," she said. "Not at the teaching level, which affects our students the most."

Scherer said the board encouraged those in attendance to voice their concerns to Harrisburg.

"It's in Harrisburg's hands," Scherer said. "They've taken the easy way out, and put the pressure on us."

Debski said that just as the board and community have been able to pull together to save the athletic programs, so, too, should they band together for the purpose of education.

After the board voted to approve next year's proposed budget, several residents and teachers voiced their displeasure.

Jyneal Kamonka-Green encouraged the board to not cut teachers, to not increase class size, and to look deeper into cuts to administrative costs.

Amy Morgan, a teacher at the junior high, questioned how the board came up with class sizes.

Scherer said that decision was based on enrollment and the number of teachers.

Blake Campbell, a senior, inquired as to which high school Honors classes would be cut.

Campbell, who said he's taken Honors classes in each of his four years of high school, said they were a big reason why he has been accepted to college.

"I feel more confident about my future," Campbell said. "I have a sister entering high school in the fall, and I want to be sure she has the same opportunities."

Boyce assured Campbell that Honors courses and Dual Enrollment will continue to be part of the high school curriculum.

Diane Morgan, a teacher at Towamensing Elementary, asked whether the board took into account the eight teachers who are set to retire at the end of 2011-12 school year.

Boyce said "all affected staff will be notified when PDE gets back to us."

Resident Chrissy Rehatchek said music education plays an important role in the lives of children, and pleaded with the board to not cut its instrumental music program.

"Why are we so willing to silence the music our children are willing to sing to us? "Please come up with a way to keep instrumental music."

Boyce said the cost for elementary instrumental music is $93,136, which includes the salary and benefits for 1 1/2 teachers.

Resident Lori Burke said she has nothing but good to say about the teachers who instruct her children at Towamensing Elementary.

"I'm appalled at cutting teachers, increasing class sizes, but yet we can only find one administrator to cut," Burke said. "You said you would leave no stone unturned, and yet you're talking cutting one administrator versus 14 teachers."

Debski then spoke out against what she believes is a common misconception about the board.

"For years, this town did not want a tax increase," Debski said. "Please don't villainize us that we want those huge class sizes."

Resident Chris Anthony said the district's music programs have been "decimated."

Boyce said proposed cuts include lesson in instrumental music, grades K-8, concert band, and jazz band. She said extra-curricular activities will still be offered.

Resident Marcia Heinick, wife of high school music instructor Tom Heinick, blasted the board.

"The district is failing our kids," Heinick said. "This is truly the day the music died in Palmerton."

Resident Elise Binder, said "music and art play a tremendous role in the education of children."

"It's your responsibility to protect the opportunities of these children," Binder said. "Quit taking the easy way out; just do your job, and support education."

Rachel Gorman, a teacher at S.S. Palmer, told the board "you have the finest educators I have ever had the opportunity to work with right in front of you."

Gorman added that "large class sizes are going to be the death of this district."

"You talk about No Child Left Behind; what I see is 'All Children Left Behind'," Gorman said. "Please don't let it be all the children Left Behind in Palmerton."

Final adoption of the 2011-12 budget is expected when the board meets at 7 p.m. June 21.

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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