School board forwards $21 million project; future salaries, benefits loom

PAT FRIDGEN

Concerned about the impact of looming increases for school district contributions toward teacher retirement, one Greencastle-Antrim school board member advocated no pay increases for two years once the current teachers' contract expires June 30, 2012. The five-year contract provided a 19 percent raise, 3.8 percent each year since 2007, and also increased the members of Greencastle-Antrim Education Association's personal responsibility toward health care premiums from none in the old contract to eight percent the fifth year of the new contract.

Joel Fridgen commented on information gathered by business manager Richard Lipella. If the G-ASD share toward teacher retirement funds through the Public School Employees' Retirement System jumps to 30 percent as expected in 2012-2013, the district would be $6 million in the hole and need a tax increase of 36 mills to cover the expense. The following year the deficit would be $7.3 million and the mill rate upped 46.1 mills from the current levy.

Some relief could be coming for taxpayers, if a bill passed by the Pennsylvania House last week gets through the Senate. In House Bill 2497, a school district's contribution would go up less, the full retirement age for new hires would rise from age 62 to 65, and they would be fully vested in 10 years rather than five.

Lipella's figures showed at a 20 percent PSERS increase and frozen salaries, in 2012-2013 G-ASD would need 24.2 mills to cover its costs, and in 2013-2014, 31.6 mills from today's level.

In both scenarios, the renovation project the board is exploring is included in the mill increase, but is only 3.1 mills the first year and an additional 2.4 mills the second year.

Fridgen pointed out that while the board raised taxes 3.2 mills starting in the fall, because of PSERS and the teacher's contract, next year the school will need nine more mills to meet expenses.

"We have a bleak financial picture for several years," he said.

Lipella added that real estate taxes have come in $300,000 less than expected this year, and could easily be short the same amount next year. "We really need to tighten up our expenditures," he warned.

Concerning the idea of no teacher raise, Fridgen said, "I wanted the board to see the comparison of what the PSERS impact would mean. PSERS is a benefit. It's part of the financial package our employees receive. The building project really isn't the issue."

Mike Shindle agreed. "If they get a raise, PSERS goes up too. They double dip."

Fridgen concluded, "It's difficult to justify raises in 2012-2013 or 2013-14 in light of the past five years. Or we can go to the taxpayers and say, 'Welcome to a 46 mill increase.'"

Other business

The board authorized superintendent C. Gregory Hoover and EI Associates to prepare project justification and schematic designs for the Department of Education. The project will be called Connector Addition and Alterations, with a pricetag of $21 million. Separate bidding documents will be prepared for the media center and athletic track resurfacing and two synthetic turf fields.

Lipella announced that Jerr-Dan successfully appealed its tax assessment, which meant G-ASD had to refund $41,000 for 2009-2010 real estate tax payments. He had factored that possibility into the budget and the money will come from the general fund.

"And that means less revenue going forward," stated board president Arnie Jansen.

Thomas Dick, transportation director, was given the green flag to purchase a used 2007 (72-passenger) school bus with 26,000 miles, for $49,640. Dick calculated the district would save $23,000 over the eight years it intended to keep the bus as a spare, as opposed to leasing a bus during that timeframe.

Because the current board room in the elementary school will be converted into a permanent classroom over the summer, school board meetings will be moved to the middle school library. All meetings begin at 6 p.m. through June 2011.