School board sets 8.16 mill ceiling on tax hike

PAT FRIDGEN
RICHARD G. LIPELLA

The Greencastle-Antrim School Board passed a preliminary general fund budget of $34,562,512 for 2011-12 at its Feb. 3 meeting. The spending plan includes a ceiling of 8.16 mills of increased taxes for property owners.

Business manager Richard Lipella said the budget would be balanced by using part of the fund balance. He also explained the status of the district's intent to seek exceptions to raise the mill rate above the Act 1 index. G-A qualified for three of the seven eligible criteria.

It could levy 1.53 mills to raise $279,400 for retirement; 2.21 mills to raise $403,700 for special education; and 2.81 mills for $513,700 toward debt service. Lipella said if the state Department of Education approved the exceptions, it would be watching to make sure that when the debt service was paid off, the district eliminated those mills. With the Act 1 allowance and the exceptions, the district could increase the mill rate by 8.16 next year, but board president Joel Fridgen and Lipella said that would not necessarily be done.

Thus far, $100,000 in cuts had been made in expenses, and the board would be looking for more.

There was also concern that state funding would drop to the 2005-06 level.

"In 20 years as a business manager, this is the wackiest year," said Lipella. "I don't like it at all."

He wanted the preliminary/final budget approved in April and the final vote in June.

Renovations

Mark Barnhart from EI Associates presented a timeline for work on the athletic fields, if they were to be ready for play next fall. He wanted bids to go out Feb. 18, work would begin the day after graduation, and the fields would be done Aug. 14. The base bid would be for the stadium field and a six-lane track. Alternates would be for a scoreboard, sound system and lights.

In response to questions, Barnhart said artificial turf usually had a five-to-ten year payback. Natural grass fields should rest alternating years. Brian Hissong asked what the plan was if the board decided not to fix the fields.

The consensus was that the public could start a capital campaign for any of the athletic features, but it could be a tough go.

Bob Crider, director of educational operations, said, "In a little more time, the football field will not be usable. If you do nothing, you will affect athletics in the district."

In 2012 girls’ soccer moves to the fall, and they don't have a field to play on at this point, the board learned. This spring all track meets will be held away.

Mike Shindle threw out a thought. "If we can't support programs, do we cut sports? We have to ask ourselves that."

Kristy Faulkner said people were forgetting that the youth were student/athletes, with the emphasis on students first. She believed team sports built character.

Paul Politis said he had changed his mind on turf, that it was not an extravagant expense. He thought the community could get behind the idea.

Barnhart said the board had 60 days to make a decision once the bids came back.

Grading system

A potential change to the school district's grading system was the topic of discussion for citizen Kevin Jackson. While a college would look at SAT/ACT scores first, scholarships were based on grade point average. He asked the board not to vote on adopting the system created by a district committee, or an alternate plan submitted by teacher Shai David, until it had more time to review them.

David shared that the high school, with 970 students, averaged 141 per week who were failing at least one class, and 41 who were failing at least two. In the latter case, they were benched from athletics until the grades came up. Under his system, if grading standards were lowered to 90, 80, 70 and 60 percent, more kids would pass their classes, and have a better chance with college applications and jobs, he said.

The issue was tabled.

Other business

The order of snow make-up days was adjusted slightly, with the third day moved to the end of the list. The order of make-up days is now June 8, June 9, April 25, April 21, March 14, Feb. 21 and June 10. Greencastle has cancelled school three days so far this year.

The retirements of faculty, effective at the end of the school year, were announced. They were Joyce Knepper and Anna Lee Kopp, both primary teachers, and Mary Margaret Labutta, high school learning support.