Greencastle-Antrim School Board adopts 2014-15 school budget with two mill tax hike

PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot

Greencastle-Antrim School District will pull $653,000 from reserves to balance its 2014-15 budget. If a Ready to Learn grant does not come through, the transfer from the safety cushion will be over $1 million.

The school board unanimously approved the final general fund budget of $36,127,185, with revenue at $35,474,691, last Thursday night. Mike Still, Jim Winslow, Linda Farley, Tracy Baer, Brian Hissong, Eric Holtzman, Lura Hanks, Ken Haines and Melinda Cordell also set the real estate tax rate at 103.15 mills, up two mills from this year.

Though the tally supporting the tax levy was 9-0, a lengthy discussion preceded the vote. The board had approved a 2.62 mill increase in the proposed final budget on May 1.  That would have generated $493,000 in income, compared to $384,000 for the two mill increase.

The reserve fund will sit at $3.2 million after monies are used for the 2014-15 budget, or $2.82 million if the $378,000 grant is not awarded by the state. The district will be notified by June 30.

A couple board members were concerned that if G-ASD depleted its reserves, the district would be considered in financial distress and the state would take control.

“If the state asks, did we do everything we could? That’s my question,” said Winslow. “Even without Hold Harmless, can we get where we need to be?”

Superintendent Greg Hoover and others are pursuing contacts in Harrisburg to push for fair treatment in the  state’s Hold Harmless funding, since remuneration to growing school districts has not followed enrollment.

Still said he used to be a one-percenter, but so many cuts had already been made. He was concerned about lost revenue that could never be made up when assessing at the lower rate.

“We almost have to tax more.”

Hanks also advocated exhausting every resource so that if the district found itself in distress, Pennsylvania would not have any recommendations on what G-ASD should do differently.

Hissong said the school board had raised taxes nine of the past 10 years, so people were paying their fair share. He threw it back to the commonwealth.

“We trust the state to treat us fairly.”

Cordell and Baer thought taxes were high enough, expenses had been cut significantly, and Baer said even the two mills was too much.

The approved budget also included a real estate transfer tax of 1/2 of 1 percent, earned income tax of 1/2 of 1 percent, and Local Services Tax of $10.  The board accepted Pennsylvania gaming money in the amount of $630,837.95 for property tax reduction and approved the Homestead and Farmstead Exclusion Resolution for 2014-15.

Specials are safe

Director of education Dr. Bob Crider reported that potential changes in the elementary schools had been cancelled. They were the topic of a community meeting May 27 in the high school band room. Hoover had told the crowd that in order to reduce class sizes with four more teachers, the district might trim the specials of music, art, library and wellness to one semester.

 Crider said that would not occur next year until the concept could be explored more in depth. The community would get advance notice of any changes to the curriculum.

“The plan could have created other issues,” he added.

While the district will not hire four extra teachers, it will replace those that are retiring, and an English position at the high school will be moved to the elementary school. That meant the third grade would get one more teacher so class size would be somewhat reduced at that grade level.

Other business

The resignation of Brian Tressler, high school social studies teacher, was accepted.

Business manager Jolinda Wilson was authorized to sell the last six school buses in the district fleet, as well as a non-running dump truck. School transportation will be completely outsourced next year.

The board approved the negotiated settlement with Greens of Greencastle after its tax assessment appeal.  Under the terms, the $2 million market value would be reduced to $1 million for 2013, with a $22,755 refund due, and the value would climb back to the top incrementally by 2020.

“It’s a win-win,” said Wilson, “because golf courses are not doing well in this economy. This keeps them afloat.”