Greencastle-Antrim leaders agree school funding needs a boost

PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot

Three bodies of elected officials met Thursday to discuss common issues. The conversation at the joint meeting at the middle school centered around the school district and its financial dilemma. The tax burden on property owners was higher than anyone wanted it to be, but increased state funding and additional taxes from new businesses were not expected in the near future.

Greencastle-Antrim School District was represented by superintendent Greg Hoover and board members Tracy Baer, Lura Hanks, Eric Holtzman, Jim Winslow, Mike Still and Brian Hissong. Greencastle Borough Council was represented by manager Susan Armstrong, Charles Eckstine, James Farley, Frank Webster Jr., Craig Myers, Wade Burkholder and mayor Bob Eberly. Antrim Township was represented by administrator Brad Graham and supervisors John Alleman, Rick Baer and Fred Young III.

What to do

Young acknowledged that the bodies had adopted a tax abatement program in 2012 to attract new and expanding businesses.

"But LERTA may not be enough," he said. "It's on a case-by-case basis. Is there anything else we're not doing as a township to help the school district?"

No one had a particular solution, but discussion ensued on what types of development were desirable. Warehouses, manufacturers and commercial businesses created different types of jobs and drew different types of residents.

Hissong offered an opinion that perhaps not as much development was needed as originally thought.

"The decision is already made," he said. "The school will go into financial distress. When that happens, the state has to give us more funds."

He was optimistic that maybe in five years the situation would right itself, as things moved in cycles.

Still and Eberly suggested the downtown be built up, including stores open in the evening, to bring in tourists and residents for cultural experiences. Myers promoted planning for the people coming from cities to the north and the south, which would only increase from the current growth pattern.

Hoover named traditions as what made Greencastle such a desirable place to live.

"We all need to keep working together to preserve them," he said.

With a building expansion program on hold for the school district, he said the Facilities Committee was reviewing capacity, and students would be accommodated in portable classrooms until it was absolutely necessary to build. The scope, however, would not be what it was a few years ago. He joked that Antrim could eliminate residential housing zones.

Tracy Baer spoke up for the leaders of the school district. Students continued to turn out admirable test scores.

"Even though we're financially struggling, we're still doing a good job."