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Committee works to pare down spending plan

Published February 26. 2013 05:03PM

The numbers crunch is in full effect as Palmerton Area School District attempts to pare down next year's spending plan.

District Business Manager Diane Serfass met with the school board's Budget and Finance Committee and several department heads on Monday to review the 2013-14 budget.

Human Resources, Business, Facilities, and the junior high school were among the departments that were covered as part of the three-hour session.

At present, the Human Resources budget comes in at $13,380.

The Business Office budget comes in at $54,250, $23,000 of which is for data processing software.

Though much higher than what the actual amount will come in at, the Facilities budget is at $999,267.

Director Sherry Haas said that figure needs to be reduced.

"I can't wait to see the new numbers," Haas said. "I want to see it come down."

Joseph Faenza, director of facilities, told Haas it would.

The junior high school budget is at $41,900.

Afterward, the board heard requests from several department heads.

Faenza said his department could use two part-time custodians.

Director Barry Scherer told Faenza that while he understands his rationale, he wasn't sure where the money would come from to accommodate his request.

Scherer added "I don't feel comfortable making any recommendations until I see what it's going to be [cost-wise]."

Christine Steigerwalt, principal of Towamensing Elementary, told the board the school could use a reading specialist.

Again, Scherer questioned where the district would come up with the money to afford the position.

Mary Brumbach, principal, S.S. Palmer Elementary and Parkside Education Center, spoke on behalf of herself and Steigerwalt in requesting yearbook advisers, one for Parkside, and the other, for Towamensing.

Scherer said he believes that in light of all the Parent Teacher Organizations have done to save the district money, the board should support the yearbook advisers.

Dan Heaney, Technology Coordinator, requested two computer coaches.

From there, Serfass discussed retiree replacements. In all, she said there will be six retirees, of which the district is asking to replace them.

Serfass said an art teacher would be replaced with another art teacher; a special education teacher would be replaced with another special education teacher; a business teacher would be replaced with another business teacher; a fourth-grade teacher at Towamensing would be replaced with another fourth-grade teacher; a junior high/high school Consumer Science teacher would be replaced with a full-time high school math teacher; and a junior high/senior high physical education teacher would be replaced with a junior high school technology teacher, though there would still be a physical education teacher in both buildings.

The costs savings the district will realize from the six retirees will be used to hire a .5 high school science teacher, Serfass said, as would a reading specialist at Towamensing. Though recommended by the board, no formal decision to hire the reading specialist has been made as of yet.

The board agreed to schedule its next two budget workshops, which will be held at 5:30 p.m. Monday, March 11, and Monday, March 25.

Last week, the board unanimously agreed to approve the 2013-14 preliminary general fund budget with a 1.18-mill increase.

If granted final approval, the $28,611,621 spending plan would raise the millage rate from 51.44 to 52.62 mills.

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. The district will continue to work to gather additional information in order to refine planned expenditures for the 2013-14 fiscal year, in order to minimize the impact to the taxpayers.

Serfass told the board last month her recommendation was to raise taxes to the full index, and to apply for any exceptions it qualifies for. The only exception the district currently qualifies for is the retirement exception, she said.

By doing so, the board still must utilize $504,635 from its fund balance to balance the budget, Serfass said at that time.

Serfass previously said the 2013-14 base index is 1.7 percent, but the district's has been adjusted to 2.3 percent based on its wealth. As a result, the most millage could increase without an approved exception or approved referendum is 1.18 mills, she said.

In March, PDE will inform the district whether its proposed tax rate increase is less than, or equal to, the index, at which time the district must seek PDE approval for exceptions, Serfass previously said.

A public presentation of the proposed final budget will be given in the high school auditorium on May 14, said Serfass, who added June 18 would then be the target date to adopt the final budget, which must be approved by June 28.

This past June, the board adopted the 2012-13 spending plan, which called for a 4.68-percent, or 2.30-mill increase, in the property tax rate.

The $27,267,701 budget raised the millage rate from 49.14 to 51.44 mills, which means a person with a home valued at $100,000, and assessed at $50,000, had to pay $2,572, or $115 more, in property taxes to the district.

As part of that approval, the board authorized $179,700 of the 2012-13 committed fund balance to be allocated to the payment of the district's 2013-14 state Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS) obligation.

That spending plan also called for the use of $272,486 from the fund balance to pay for the 2011-12 positions that were restored.

Also as part of that budget, the board rejected the transfer of $44,945 from the Special Athletic Account to general fund to reimburse the expense of the wrestling, cross country, golf and tennis programs for the 2011-12 fiscal year as per the board resolution dated June 7, 2011.

Exceptions the board used as part of that budget pertained to various items that dealt with construction and debt service; special education costs; the PSERS increase; and a total millage increase of 1.17 mills.

In addition, the board rejected a motion to utilize the following formula to allocate the donation of $46,351 from the Save Our Sports group before June 30, 2012; 2011-2012 total athletic expenditures less 2011-2012 gate receipts, less 2011-2012 budgeted local revenue equals the amount of the donation to be utilized to fund the total 2011-2012 athletic program. Any remaining donated funds shall be used in the same manner in subsequent years.

Additionally, the board authorized the transfer of $32,471 from the Special Athletic Account to General Fund to fund a portion of the 2011-2012 athletic program. The remaining SOS allocation was to have been placed in a separate account.

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