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Lehighton approves school budget with tax increase

Published June 28. 2019 10:49AM

Lehighton Area School District’s board of directors plan to use a 1-mill property tax increase to help slice what was once a $4.5 million shortfall down to $2.5 million.

The millage increase, which will add $59.41 to the average taxpayer’s bill, is part of a $43.89 million budget for 2019-20 passed 5-1 during a special board meeting Thursday.

Voting yes were directors Andrew Yenser, Larry Stern, Wayne Wentz, Stephen Holland and Rita Spinelli. Gail Maholick, who participated in the meeting via cellphone, voted against it. Joy Beers, David Bradley and Richard Beltz did not attend the meeting.

“Everyone had constant vigilance when looking at the numbers and trying to make things better for our district,” Board President Larry Stern said regarding the budget. “While this is the number that is budgeted, it is not a free will budget number. If it needs to be spent and is justified to be spent, using much more stringent criteria than in the past, it will be. If it doesn’t, it won’t be.”

Superintendent Jonathan Cleaver said the board will get monthly reports detailing exactly what is remaining in each account. Lehighton’s new business administrator Patricia Denicola, who replaced Brian Feick in March, told the board that medical claims paid from July through March, totaling $3.5 million, were not shown as expenditures on the books. Throughout the budget process, Denicola said, she has used prior years’ actual expenditures and the actual expenditures to date in 2018-19 to form the 2019-20 budget. She told the board Thursday that while the adopted budget stands at a proposed $2.5 million deficit, that number could change throughout the year.

“With strict purchasing guidelines and taking our supplies purchasing out to bid, possible changes in charter school enrollment, and better performance on health care claims, that could help the number,” she said. “It’s unfortunate to be in this kind of shortfall, but we also feel with any other retirements or resignations during the year that we can absorb those positions through attrition and make the $2.5 million come out much better.”

The $43.89 million budgeted expenditures is a 1.3% increase over where the district is at for its actual expenditures in 2018-19.

Earlier in the meeting, Maholick made a motion to adopt a budget prepared by Bradley that called for $40.88 million in expenditures, a $50,000 surplus and a property tax reduction.

“Looking at our collective bargaining agreements and an analysis of our prior year and current year actuals, I don’t believe that expenditure number is attainable,” Denicola said.

Maholick’s motion failed due to lack of a second.

“I’d love to live with a budget that had lower numbers and reductions but that isn’t the world we’re living in,” director Andrew Yenser said. “The business office put the budget together using true numbers and actual costs of where we are at. We have to be truthful to ourselves as a district.”

Likewise, director Rita Spinelli said Bradley’s plan boiled down to “bad budgeting.”

“I find it disturbing board members would look at doing a budget for next year and not look at what they spent this year,” Spinelli said. “When you do your household budget and your mortgage is $1,000, if that goes up you can’t keep the budget at $1,000. Using pie in the sky numbers doesn’t help us at all.”

The tax increase will be Lehighton’s first since 2014-15.

Qualifying homestead/farmstead owners will see a $266 reduction on their tax bill, Denicola said. Stern encouraged anyone who is eligible for the reduction to take advantage of it.

Also approved Thursday were the resignation of Jessica Bruch, elementary teacher and reading specialist, who took a first-grade teaching position in Pleasant Valley School District; and the retirement of school nurses Avril Guardiani and Coleen Harleman, who have 35 and 31 years of service with the district respectively.

“They’ve done a lot for our district and seen a lot of students go through those doors,” Cleaver said. “They made a lot of connections with families that go beyond just the nursing piece of it. They went above and beyond and we are grateful for their time here.”

Y isn't the whole board there to vote on this matter? If u r on board get your ass to thg he meeting. It's your duty that's y u got elected
How about when the administration decides to schedule special meetings(not previously on the schedule)they check with the directors first to make sure there are not conflicts. People have jobs and other committments.
Meeting was scheduled without the courtesy to check with the minority board's schedules. Or more likely our public schedules was checked and the date was carefully selected.
No agenda was published until after 4 pm.

When I got the agenda, I rushed to the district to add the items I had. They needed to be placed on the agenda that were apparently 'missed'. I was told Superintendent Cleaver handled the agenda.

So, I was at the district, with Steve Holland and the doors were locked. Luckily, Melissa Wagner was kind enough to meet me and get the agenda items Superintendent Cleaver and his stampers blocked, including the balanced budgeslthat had a slight tax decrease.

Ironically, my commitment was to present my speech on "Holding our government accountable", as scheduled.

Meeting both committments required me to call in to the district. The call in number was given to me, but apparently since Gail was on Melissa's cell phone multiple call ins were not an option as originally thought.

As Cleaver has said, "We have our five".
Block me, rebuke me, sanction me, censure me, censor me, it's ok, I am resilient.
The five own this mess and the legacy of debt.

If the town wants it fixed, we as a community can review option to fix this before the state steps in.

1) Use our budget
Then in addition to those proposed savings, and moral ideology add these:
A) Refinance the legacy of debt Wanye and his cronies are so proud of. Interest will escalate, nearing 5% in a year or so. It is a ridiculously bad deal. Fools and your money.
B) Apply the Act 34 savings
C) Renegotiate with the Lehighton Electric 'deal'.
D) Externalize the cost of babysitting individual staff member's medical claims to the staff earning the benefit.
This is a double benefit, it adds staff privacy and their ability to help control costs (if they care of course, if not the board, the legal authority steps in). Use our existing Highmark services and their existing use of the Explaniation of Benefits to trust and verify the use of the benefits plan. This allows the district's current benefits package to have privacy, just like a real corporation. Saves money, not cuts in benefits (at this time) and our staff picks up the personal 'work' of using their medical benefits. This is not new, common sense really.
E) Promote school choices, including charter, cyber and parochial. All save the district millions and allow the parents to choose what is best for their children.
All of these, like governmental transparency are not my ideas, however I do find them to be incredibly valuable.

This isn't over. The evil ones will refute the logic, transparency and knowledge of the enlightened. Check out the "Allegory of the Cave", and "Not yours to give".


Citizen David F. Bradley Sr.
Imagine, you are a government official, and you have to hide from being asked any specific questions.

Once you feel guilty, how would you act.
Sincerely. Once you knew that everyone in the community knows you were a lying sack, and you are going to take their money for all the wrong reasons, how would you hide from being found out?

When would you release the agenda to raise taxes?
When would you schedule the meeting?
Why would you not review my tax saving budget? Why don't you want to close the revolving door of minimum wage employees that cost the time of highly paid administrators to manage the turnover.

If our Superintendent works a full year, about 2000 hours, and with his full cost to the district at about $250,000, one hour of Cleaver time is equal to about 17 support staff hours.

When we release all the staff costs with the benefits package, the community will see the transparent truth of what happened. What happens when specific board members, like a president, has a relative on staff.

Let's see, board President Larry Stern's wife works at the district. How about exPresident David Krause? What are the odds?

How about Yenser? How about Wentz? Steve Holland was a Lehighton staff member, and Gloria Bowman was as well. In a town of thousands, what are the odds that so many members of the board have or had a relationship with the district or district employees. Then look at the voting records and rubber-stamping. Then ask yourself why do they oppose transparency? Write your government. Oh wait, not all their email are listed on the website and Wayne Wentz uses his wife's email as his official email, and according to his court testimony they are erased regularly. As are Holland, and Stern emails. Hmmm. Coincidence, Cronyism, Corruption, certainty not public servants acting on the best interest of citizens.


Citizen David F. Bradley Sr.


Citizen David F. Bradley Sr.
Can't wait to read absentee Bradley's uneducated, foolish and unsound fiscal comments...
No need to wait, read the Attorney General, Auditor general letter.

Read the audit reports from Penn Hills and Scranton.

Actually, I give Andrew Yenser, Wayne Wentz, Larry Stern, Steve Holland and the infamous Rita Spinelli the same pass on intellectual conversation I give to newborns. Same for the interaction I recieved when proposing a budget using 5 year spending history (less stadium, construction and other extraneous consumption), income history (less a slight reduction to help us maintain the grandparent who help the students), and a support staff pay increase to save the revolving door of minimum wage employees.

My budget was published, checked by many professionals. Rita's statement stand on her rubber-stamping reputation.

Enjoy the lies and tax increase, math shows this is one tenth of what their spending will need. Where is their sustainability?


Citizen David F. Bradley Sr.
No one "likes" paying increased taxes but sometimes they are necessary. I will never make a decision solely based on whether taxes are increased or decreased. One must always look at the big picture and not have short-sightedness.
Then why did the fab five ignore the opportunity to provide a quality, state-mandated education, with a slight tax decrease? As proposed in the balanced budget?

Why aren't you looking at the big picture? The district documents show it operated at a slow tax and spend trend up to $40M+- for the last five years. A slight decline in the number of students, same staff all while consuming about $13M in fund balances for "construction wants".

Why is the budget now $44M, with the consolidation savings of $1.2M for the Elementary Center?

Stop letting your elected officials like Director Yenser, Wentz, Stern Spinelli, and Holland lie to you. Hold them accountable. Open your eyes to the big picture. Unless this district is building another monument with its Legacy of Debt the total budget should be leveling off, and slightly decreasing with the projected decreases in enrollment. It should not be increasing by nearly 10% in one year with unsustainable projections moving forward.

A fool and your money are soon parted when the watchful eyes are blocked from transparency.

I asked for resignation, will these elected officials that neglected to honor their oath get out of hte way so proper fiscal management can occur? Why are the logic minded, proper stewards of other people's money blocked by rubber-stampers that give the fox their blind-trust access to the hen house?


Citizen David F. Bradley, Sr.

Lots of talk by the stampers and their leaders, but where is the beef?
Where are the documents, where is the proof?
Love this spin.
"The $43.89 million budgeted expenditures is a 1.3% increase over where the district is at for its actual expenditures in 2018-19."
This budget is UP about 10%. Or $4M.

Since the Fed and State numbers are pretty much fixed, and the local taxes are about $20M, to keep up with this mismanagement the real estate taxes are short by about 20%.

BTW, when they used the last couple years actual expenditures, did they remove ALL the extraordinary expenses? Or is this just a huge money grab for more?

Funny thing is, you ever wonder why the detailed documents we requested months ago are missing form the board documents?
Blind-trust, no verify, running the Hometown team playbook.

To think, I used to trust people like Wentz, Krause, Bowman, Stern, Yenser, Holland, Spinelli as government officials. I figured they were volunteers, what evil could they perpetrate. Now, not only do I know better, firsthand, I am disgusted by what I learned.
The government actions of these people and the lack of needed action regarding the safety of students, treatment of staff, respect of the parents and stakeholders is scary. Then, add the lack of understanding budgets, business management, and logical thought and you can probably see why this is such a mess. Send in the smartest people in the community, we need a farmer, a mechanic, a musician and a grandmother of twelve. We will get commonsense, an asset manager, a free thinker and someone that knows all children are individuals, needing an individual path to utilize the gifts God has provided them with to make themselves strong, strong enough to help others.

Good luck Lehighton. We have a long row to hoe.


Citizen David F. Bradley Sr.

I remember these folks stating how great this is going to be. We can build a stadium and a new school and it will save the taxpayers money. We can do this without raising taxes. Wake up lehighton this board is not on your side they only care about the teachers and administrators. The people footing the bill are not high on their list and never were. We need to vote them out in November or you can watch them continue to overspend.
Dave Bradley has served on the school board for a bit over 1.5 years. For most of that time, he has been telling the majority that the path of spending more than they take in was a recipe for disaster. Common sense. Did they listen? NO! Why? Because it was Dave Bradley. And they just can't get past their personal feelings for him.

Funny, isn't it, that when they wanted to build a new middle school those 4 elementary schools were just fine to house the kids. But when that was stopped by the efforts of the community a new plan was formed. They would build a new elementary school. All of a sudden those 4 elementary schools were no good.

During the election, they claimed Dave Bradley and the others were lying about the 100 million dollar debt. Partially true as it was underestimated. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education numbers, the debt was actually 119 million.

They had accumulated so much cash in the district savings accounts that they paid 6.5 million for a new stadium, claiming the old one would be too expensive to renovate. So what happened to that old stadium? Oh, that's right, we are still using it!

They mortgaged the children's future to build a monument to themselves. 2 of them as a matter of fact. And that Elementary Center? It is still not complete. There is still no permanent Certificate of Occupancy as the plans submitted to Lehighton Borough have still not been completed as approved. The kids have spent an entire school year in a building that is still not finished. There is still a "punch list" to be completed.

Mahoning Elementary and East Penn Elementary were rushed to sale before the 2017 election. Not even advertised according to Pennsylvania State Law and I have the Right to Know Request that proves it.

I'm sure all of those in the majority are nice, pleasant people. They are just not equipped to govern and run the school. And the lack of oversight that put the district in the position it now finds itself is irrevocable proof. It is poor choices, lack of oversight, an inability to effectively govern, lack of good business sense, trust without verification, and rubber stamping every request from the administration that put us where we are now.

There are people here that are struggling to survive, fighting for their lives and to keep their homes. This tax increase is another nail in the coffin and there will others. The question has now become, do we continue down this road to destruction or do we turn in another direction, correct the mistakes of the past, heal the division and bring the district together to become stronger for the sake of the kids.

Buildings and monuments will eventually turn to dust, but a good education will last a lifetime and be passed down for generations to come.

It's time to focus our efforts on digging the district out of this legacy of debt and it won't be easy. There will be hard decisions and hard choices. We will need strong, intelligent leadership to get us there, and it's not the ones who put us there. It is, ultimately for the sake of the kids, their families and their future and by the same token, our future as well.

I've been told this is my opinion and should state as much. So, here goes. this is my opinion after looking at the facts of what occurred in this district. Is it yours?
What do you get when Director Yenser fails to do his duty as treasurer, Rubber-stamping Rita chooses to ignore common sense, wasteful Wayne Wentz a veteran that fought in foreign lands to defend the constitution yet fails to uphold it locally, Larry Stern's claims of immunity and Steve Holland's proposal to spend money on lighting up the student's bleachers yet fails to give students their rights in the classrooms?

Well, a tax increase and the Lehighton Area School District Government, of, by and for the administration. Five abdicating much of their authority to the very people they were elected to oversee in spite of their Oath of Office.


Citizen David F. Bradley, Sr.
This tax increase is only the beginning. With the hometown team taping into the one time roughly $15M surplus fund over past few years to avoid tax hikes they have pretty much wiped it out. With added cost driver of new school, coupled with out of control over the top pension and Cadillac healthcare costs, taxpayers better get ready to duck and cover in the coming years.

Even if the upcoming election overturns the elitist 5 and their protectionist non transparent ways, the hangover will last for years. Don't point fingers at new team if they win. Give them 3 to 4 years to right the ship if the ship can even be righted.

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