EDUCATION

School board looks at 3.2 mill property tax hike

PAT FRIDGEN

Even taking into consideration almost $700,000 in cuts for next school year, the Greencastle-Antrim Board of School Directors adopted the 2010-11 preliminary budget with a 3.2 mill tax increase. That is the maximum allowed by the Act 1 index without requiring public approval. It will add $580,000 to the school district coffers.

Meeting April 15, ironically the last day to file individual income taxes, the board admitted the property tax increase was inevitable, but hoped more cuts in spending could be made before the final budget is voted on June 4.

Business manager Richard Lipella said the new figures still meant operating in the red, but general fund revenues would be $31,599,028 with expenditures at $33,174,639.

The budget was prepared without counting on any additional funds from the state. Lipella said those numbers wouldn't be out until summer. He included $160,000 for future contributions to the Public School Employees Retirement System, but declared the state had to change that law. In the  future, school districts' financial responsibility toward PSERS is expected to spike.

"Some schools are not building up a reserve for that day, to keep pressure on the state," he said.

Board members in favor of the tax hike were Joel Fridgen, Paul Politis, Kristy Faulkner, Arnie Jansen, Howard Ritchey, William Thorne and Eric Holtzman. Brian Hissong voted against. Mike Shindle was absent.

The cuts

"We have $674,000 in adjustments," said Lipella. "A lot of effort was put into this by the Finance Committee." He referred to Fridgen, Faulkner and Holtzman. The committee, working with administration and teachers, reduced spending in many areas.

The most significant was $313,000 in salaries, with some staff reduction through attrition, and two positions eliminated. Superintendent C. Gregory Hoover volunteered to take no pay raise, and the administrators offered to accept a 2 percent raise instead of 3.5 percent, as was included in the middle of their three-year contract. Director of Education Bob Crider said of the latter group, "We felt it was the right thing to do. We understand the budget issues of the district." The smaller raise should save $15,000.

Accompanying the salary reductions was $72,000 in savings for benefits.

Principals trimmed $135,000 in supplies, mostly for books in the libraries. All said no textbooks were cut. The price of diesel fuel was also down.

Purchased services were reduced, including transportation, travel, and fewer tuition payments for students at Kaplan, to the tune of $68,000.

Other expenditures under the ax were $35,000 of professional and technical services; $23,000 in property services, aided by natural gas at a five-year low; $14,000 in equipment and $3,000 in less reimbursement of fees for students taking AP exams.

Hoover announced that Behind the Wheel training in driver's ed was cut but the classroom portion would continue to be taught.

Less income

Lipella said revenues were expected to be down $97,000, with the bulk, $52,000, from earned income taxes. The realty transfer tax would likely be down $20,000, and investment earnings $35,000. He hoped to bring in an additional $10,000 if admission to athletic events was increased, and also the participation fee for athletes.

Hoover explained, "Currently we have the lowest admission fees in the conference. And we have talked about raising our pay-to-play, which is now $10."

Several board members expressed a desire to trim expenditures even more, especially since the district is looking at major building renovations in the next year or so. Board president Jansen suggested the Finance Committee meet again. "They can determine what can we afford to build? Then the Facilities Committee can decide what they can do with that amount of money."