2011-2012 Greencastle-Antrim School District budget squeaks through

PAT FRIDGEN

It took a phone call to an out of town member for the Greencastle-Antrim school board to pass the 2011-2012 budget. Two members brought up issues which had been addressed in previous meetings, and held them up as their reasons for opposing the $32,450,918 general fund budget.

After several votes, including a tie, the budget was adopted. It raises the real estate tax by three mills, to 97.9 mills, and will require the district to draw $283,000 from reserves unless the state comes through with more money.

The impasse

When the board reached the budget item on the agenda, Paul Politis said he still had a problem with the "pay to play" fee, which would rise from $30 to $100 per activity next fall, capped at $225 per student, compared to this year's cap of $75. He saw the fee, applied to athletics and the music program, as a tax on parents, and predicted marginal athletes would not go out. He moved, seconded by Melinda Cordell, to amend the budget to keep activity rates the same as this year. Cordell supported an increase in the fees, but not that much.

The amendment failed, 6-2, with Kristy Faulkner, Joel Fridgen, Brian Hissong, Eric Holtzman, Howard Ritchey and William Thorne standing by the May 5 decision to impose the fees. At that time Holtzman, Mike Shindle, Hissong, Thorne and Ritchey favored the increase; Cordell, Faulkner and Politis did not; and Fridgen was absent.

Aware that the budget might not have strong support from the board, president Fridgen said past decisions in the long budget-planning process may not have gone the way everyone wanted on specific points, "but a 5-4 vote is shaky. I tried to provide an open environment, we questioned the administration, issues were discussed. Today you are using these issues as statements. To hold up the budget process now, I'm disappointed. Something is wrong if we are this split."

The board was informed by superintendent Dr. C. Gregory Hoover and business manager Richard Lipella that if the budget did not pass that evening, the board would have to call a special meeting in order to pass it by June 30, or the district would shut down.

With the budget back on the floor, its passage stalled when Fridgen, Ritchey, Thorne and Cordell voted to adopt it, but Hissong, Holtzman, Politis and Faulkner rejected it. Asked to explain their negative votes, Holtzman and Hissong said it was because of the mill increase, and Faulkner because the board did not look at every area for cuts. "For example, people," she said. "We scratched the surface but didn't investigate everything, such as outsourcing."

On March 27 the board talked about outsourcing the transportation system, and Vicki Chlebowski spoke on behalf of the bus drivers asking that the district not do that. Lipella had consulted three companies but due to timing or more expensive costs, it wasn't advantageous to outsource that department next year. He said he could investigate the financial ramifications for 2012-2013 with an earlier start. A vote to retain the district's current transportation plan was supported by Fridgen, Cordell, Ritchey, Politis and Shindle; opposed by Hissong, Faulkner and Holtzman; and Thorne was absent.

With the budget in limbo, someone recommended phoning Shindle, who couldn't attend the meeting. When he was on the line, the vote took place and he broke the tie to pass the budget 5-4.

"The process was unlike any other year," said Hoover. "We started in January, when the deficit was large. We knew we'd get it down where we needed to be. Never before has the state taken money away."

He said that while expenditures would be only $80,000 higher than last year, because of the state's drop in funding, massive cuts and the tax increase were necessary. "It had us scrambling."

The cuts

These are some of the cuts approved by the school board to balance the budget for 2011-2012. The reduction in personnel, services and supplies total over $2.4 million.

Reduce two teaching staff positions through retirement, $155,134; eliminate five support staff positions through retirement, $191,672; eliminate one support staff by furlough, $30,000; eliminate Title 1 summer reading program, $10,000; salary/wage freeze for all employees, $872,489; reduction in professional development, $20,000; reduction in supplies, repairs, software and equipment, $109,550; eliminate Blended Schools and its license fees, $65,000; reduction in maintenance, $72,740; elimination of debt service for building project, $740,000.