The Greencastle-Antrim School Board officially put furloughs, teacher and program cuts and the elimination of extracurricular activities on the table during a virtual meeting Wednesday night.
"Pre-COVID-19 it wasn't good, post-COVID-19 it's disastrous" is how Caroline Royer, chief financial officer, described the district's fiscal position. Projected revenues for 2020-21 are $39,999,478 and projected expenses are $42,448,579 for a deficit of $2,449,101.
The board voted 6-3 to adopt Resolution #1-2020: "Resolution of Intent to Reduce (Furlough/Suspend/Terminate) Professional and Temporary Professional Employees, to Furlough Administrators, to Terminate Support Staff Employees, and to Cut Extracurricular Positions and Programs for Economic Reasons."
The Pennsylvania School Code requires 60-day notice of intent to furlough and the resolution gives the board the option to choose any or all of the cuts on June 29, just in time for the state-mandated deadline to pass a budget by June 30.
"We might not want to make these cuts, but we might have to do this," said Tracy Baer, board president. She added the resolution "is an intent, not an action."
Baer, Pat Fridgen, Shannon Yates, Scott Hart, Mike Still and Shannon Blanchard voted "yes" on the resolution and Mark Chimel, Dr. Carter Davidson and Lindsey Mowen voted "no."
Hart said most of the board members are taxpayers and parents.
"We're not taking this lightly, but we were elected to make hard decisions," Hart said, later adding if the board did not vote on the resolution Wednesday, it did not have the options it outlines.
Still termed the resolution a tool for the board members to put in their toolbox in case they have to act on it.
The resolution also gives them 60 days to find areas to "nickel and dime," get creative and find funds, Still said.
"I'm not willing to build a guillotine I'm not going to use," said Davidson, continuing that there have to be a better options than cutting teachers and athletics. "We have to be creative."
The action came after a lengthy virtual meeting on YouTube that drew more than 400 Wednesday night and has now been view by more than 2,600.
Before the budget and potential cuts were detailed, the meeting opened with Baer reading more than a dozen comments submitted online by district residents.
Many were from parents who lauded teachers for providing normalcy in their children's lives during the coronavirus pandemic and continuing relationships and educating students virtually.
"Now more than ever, students need the support of their teachers," wrote Cody Hill, who noted he does not have children in the district.
He said it makes sense to cancel the building project, which the board did by deciding not to proceed with the planned $16.8 million renovation and addition project at the high school.
However, Hill called it "idiotic" to consider cutting teachers. Others called it insane, absolutely ridiculous and a slap in the face to teachers.
The resolution gives the board "marching orders" to develop a list to be acted on June 29, said Brooke Say, the district solicitor from Stock and Leader.
A salary freeze is one potential avenue for savings — $506,000 — but the district has not received word if the Greencastle-Antrim Education Association, the union that represents the teachers, will consent to a freeze.
Positions that could be suspended, furloughed or terminated include 13.5 instructional, two administrators and one noninstructional, as well as support staff, according to the resolution read by Dr. Kendra Trail, superintendent.
Departments that could see reduced staff at the high school and middle school include health and wellness, music, co-operative education, world language, English language arts, math, science and social studies. Possible reductions at the elementary and primary schools include one teacher each for third, fourth and fifth grades and K-4 computer instruction.
"The District proposes to eliminate all sporting and extracurricular activity stipended positions (non-instructional positions held by professional employees and non-professional stipended employees), the corresponding student activities, accompanying costs, and the positions of Athletic Director and Athletic Trainer as it is first and foremost our responsibility to educate students," the resolution states.
The financial picture has changed daily since March 13, when Gov. Tom Wolf closed schools across Pennsylvania, Royer said.
The estimated revenues of $39,999,478 are $1.7 million lower than originally projected and there are other variables to consider, such as the state freezing the district's ability to raise property taxes. If the district were to increase property taxes by the allowed maximum of 3.4% or 3.83 mills from 112.84 to 116.67 — $83 for the typical taxpayer — it would provide $758,000 in new money.
Royer termed the $1.7 million revenue loss "staggering" and attributed it to lower collection of taxes, including property, earned income and real estate transfer taxes, and the possibility of no increase in funding for basic or special education from the state.
She also explained the district has been chipping away at its reserves for years, due in part to the state funding formula that gives Greencastle-Antrim less per student than the majority of districts in Pennsylvania.
The district also is not saving money with schools closed by COVID-19 and must continue to pay for salaries and benefits, cyber school and technology, while earned income taxes decline since businesses are closed and district residents are furloughed or unemployed.
"There's no pile of money going into the bank during the closure — quite the opposite," she said.
Unknowns include whether the district will be able to raise taxes above the maximum, whether the district will receive federal stimulus money and the costs for reopening schools including class sizes, transportation and health and safety standards.
"Will projected revenues become reality or will the economy rebound quickly?" Royer asked.
The board is scheduled to vote on the proposed budget on May 21 and the final budget June 29.