Greencastle-Antrim School Board gets first crack at 2012-2013 budget

PAT FRIDGEN

Greencastle-Antrim School District business manager Richard Lipella wants approval of the 2012-2013 preliminary budget at the March 15 school board meeting, or on April 5 at the latest. No numbers would be locked into place, but the figures on paper for the public would at least keep the process moving, he told the board on Feb. 16.

"It can still go up or down. It will show a deficit, since it will be a board decision whether to raise taxes," Lipella said.

He estimated school operations would run between $700,000 to $800,000 in the red, but as more information came in, it could drop about 10 percent.

Brian Hissong, Tracy Baer, Mike Still, Mike Shindle, William Thorne, Joel Fridgen and Ken Haines got a look at the first numbers. Melinda Cordell and Eric Holtzman were absent.

Lipella reported that state funding had flatlined, as expected. Gov. Tom Corbett's Student Achievement Educational Block Grant (SAEBG) proposal would consolidate basic education, transportation and Social Security reimbursement funding into one grant. In the past, they had been line items in the budget.

The state contends the SAEBG appropriations will eliminate some bureacracy, and allow school district administration and school boards the flexibility to determine how best to use the money, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Overall, funding is 0.34 percent higher than in 2011-2012, and Lipella acknowledged G-ASD would receive $5,600 more than it expected. His early projection was revenue of $32.7 million, and expenses of $33.4 million next year.

Alert

The board unanimously approved the purchase of SchoolMessenger as a district-wide alert system. Superintendent Dr. C. Gregory Hoover stated that during a school bus accident in December, the school did not have the ability to notify affected families immediately, but the new system would allow that.

Director of Education Bob Crider had researched programs used by neighboring schools, and selected SchoolMessenger based on its price and capabilities.

The recommended response system cost was $1 per student for the basic service, and 25 cents per student for a contact manager system. The latter places the responsibility on the families to update telephone numbers that change, once the district enters the initial information. The district could create various lists for alert calls, such as district wide, building specific, by grade level, bus route, etc.

"If we order now, it is free to use through June, then we pay for it from next year's budget," said Crider.

Still and Haines wanted to wait, and contact other districts that actually used SM.

Fridgen disagreed, asking how much more administrative time they wanted to dedicate to a $3,800 expenditure.

Other business

A discussion resumed on action taken Feb. 2, in which the board unanimously denied a raise to four paraprofessionals who had taken an online certification course, but would not be changing job duties.

Hoover recommended the personnel committee look at the job descriptions again, which were categorized into bands, and give a stipend to anyone who obtained the certification. Shindle explained that the committee did not arbitrarily design the bands, that they came from an extensive study by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association. Lipella wanted the entire system addressed if that was the direction the board was heading, not just particular jobs, and it would take a long time. He added that the district had wanted to get away from some of the stipends.

Still moved to reverse the decision of the previous meeting, therefore to grant the raises. It died for lack of a second.

Hoover announced that the district had made the first cut of the federal Keystones To Opportunity grants. Open to all 500 districts, over 300 had applied, with 148 still in the running. Between 50 and 75 districts would win $250,000 to $1 million. G-ASD personnel were setting literacy priorities for use of the money for the next round of competition.