School taxes to rise

PAT FRIDGEN
Brian Carter, president of the G-A Band Boosters, addressed the school board on behalf of 60 parents and students who accompanied him. He was pleased band would continue to meet before school rather than move to afternoons, but cautioned the board against making cuts in the arts programs in the future.

With little fanfare, and no citizens speaking for or against the 2010-2011 budget during spring discussions, the Greencastle-Antrim school board adopted the general fund budget June 3, raising real estate taxes by 3.2 mills, the maximum allowed by law. The new rate will be 94.9 mills.

Business manager Richard Lipella prepared the budget with nearly $32.4 million in expenses, over $31.4 million in revenue, and the $923,000 deficit covered by a fund balance. The undesignated reserves stand at $4.2 million right now.

Other taxes stayed the same: per capita $10, real estate transfer 1/2 of 1 percent, earned income 1/2 of 1 percent, and occupational privilege tax $10.

Since March the board trimmed the initial spending gap of $2.4 million if taxes did not increase. It eliminated two teaching positions funded by grants, made staff reductions through attrition, accepted administration offers to take a lower raise than the contract allowed, reduced the amount of purchased services, and made cuts in supplies and equipment. The mill increase adds $580,000 to the general fund.

Teachers hired and shifted

Six current and new teachers were hired to fill retirement slots and other vacancies. High school biology teacher Kerri Barnes will become the environmental education teacher, and middle school music teacher Ronalyn Bingaman will move to the high school. Deena Kirkwood, high school math teacher, will shift to secondary gifted support and middle school math enrichment. Her duties as Classroom of the Future coach will continue through a state grant. Daphne Murray will move from the middle school to the high school family consumer science spot. The middle school course will be reorganized with the remaining FCS teacher in order to save the Reading Enrichment position of Sheila Keller. She was funded by a grant last year and that has ended.

Eric Holtzman wondered if it was necessary to keep a professional employee on staff for programs at Tayamentasachta, A Center for Environmental Studies. Superintendent C. Gregory Hoover defended it. "It is one of the major components of our science program."

Howard Ritchey added that students enjoyed visiting, and didn't see the lessons as science per se, but as going to the farm. He also doubted the center would be maintained without close involvement.

These changes in personnel were approved unanimously by the eight board members present: Ritchey, Bill Thorne, Holtzman, Joel Fridgen, Paul Politis, Brian Hissong, Kristy Faulkner and Mike Jansen, with one exception. Holtzman voted against the science placement. Arnie Jansen was absent.

The final staff appointment generated more discussion. Joyce Gerstenlauer was on the agenda to be hired as middle school music teacher at a salary of $74,813, with a master's degree and 16 years of experience. She formerly taught at the Scotland School for Veterans' Children.

When the school in northern Franklin County closed last year due to state budget cuts, Act 9 of 2008 mandated the furloughed teachers be hired by any school within a 17-mile radius as vacancies arose for the next three years.

Several board members expressed frustration with the law. Hoover said he had never met her but Director of Education Bob Crider had. "She's pleasant and knowledgeable," Crider said. "I think she'll do a very good job."

Human resources director Tina Clever added, "She's overjoyed and thrilled to death to get this job. I think she'll give us a good 10 to 15 years."

The board voted 6-2 to hire her, with Holtzman and Hissong saying no.

Commented Hoover, "I appreciate your no votes, but thank you for the yes votes. It makes my life a whole lot easier."

Music program

A crowd of visitors representing the high school band program walked in at the start of the meeting. Hoover announced, "We are keeping music in the morning. That's a moot point if it's what you want to talk about."

He added that the school district would run one bus before school to pick up the band and choral students next year, not four as had been the custom, to save $15,000 annually. Because a maximum of 47 students had registered to ride the early morning buses, but less than half actually did, the school found the system inefficient and expensive.

Band Booster president Brian Carter spoke on behalf of the group, noting ninth-grade music was also moving to before school. He referred to an idea that had been considered recently, holding all music practices after school. "I'm a businessman. I understand cuts. It (after school) was a hasty decision."

Hoover referred to the morning schedule and busing plan as a "win-win."

Technology audit

A plan to audit the informational technology program in the school district was tabled until the board could get more quotes. One had been received for $20,000.

Politis asked if an audit was worthwhile or could current staff conduct it?

Shindle said the IT department was doing great work, but didn't have the time.

Fridgen pushed for the audit. "We need to understand our strengths and weaknesses. We spend $250,000 every year on technology now. Our servers are inadequate capacity. We're not in the computer business. I really believe we'll get a payback. This is an investment."

Activity fees

The board will vote June 17 on raising student activity fees. Currently $10 per sport or extracurricular activity, the plan created by administrators and the athletic director resulted in a tier system. The participation fee would go to $30 per student, with a cap of $75 for the school year. This would apply to sports, indoor guard and percussion, and marching and field band. A $15 fee would be levied for drama and weight club. Student organizations would be exempt. as would graded courses.

Students enrolled in the reduced lunch program would pay one-fifth the fees. Students receiving free lunches would participate for free.