Greencastle-Antrim School District could avoid tax hike by using reserves


Greencastle-Antrim School District property owners may not see a tax increase if reserve funds are used to balance the 2012-2013 spending plan.

A preliminary budget was presented to the school board March 1 with a $565,000 deficit. Revenue was projected at $32.6 million and expenses at $33.2 million by business manager Richard Lipella. He recommended making up the difference from the district fund balance, since it was at 12 percent of expenditures. The state did not allow an increase in taxes if it exceeded 8 percent.

Lipella explained that the fund balance was not actual cash, but an accumulation of positive and negative net results at the end of each school year. The $4.2 million was unreserved.

He walked through the numbers with Eric Holtzman, Mike Still, Mike Shindle, William Thorne, Ken Haines, Melinda Cordell, Tracy Baer and Joel Fridgen. Brian Hissong was absent.

A revenue increase of $148,000 was due to updated assessed property values, but in past years that ran as high as $500,000. Social Security reimbursement funding was also up. Health care rates did not go up, which he termed "a rarity." Natural gas was at an all-time low and electrical rates were dropping, which also helped the bottom line.

Lipella reported on cuts proposed by the administration. Six teachers retired, but only three people would be hired in their stead, with no specifics yet determined on the positions. Duties of the outgoing special education director would be assumed by Bob Crider, director of education, and Molly Moran, director of reading and special programs. A teacher sabbatical leave would be over, saving money related to that, and a parttime guidance secretary would not be replaced. These changes yielded a personnel salary savings of $30,000.

District retirement contributions for employees jumped from $1.42 million in 2011-2012 to $2 million in 2012-2013, and the following two years were shown at $2.85 million and $3.65 million.

The overall budget was up $756,000 from last year but Lipella said the numbers were about the best he had seen at this stage, because of the significant cuts.

Fridgen reminded the board it had to be ready for the increased funding of employee retirement accounts in future years, as required by PSERS. Lipella said so far $750,000 was in reserve for that.

The board will vote on a preliminary budget April 5. Holtzman thanked the administration and staff for their extensive work on the budget, including a focus on the next three years.

Other business

The board took the first reading of a school policy update on controlled substances and paraphernalia. It planned to ban  substances that gave similar physiological effects, such as incense and other products containing synthetic cannabinoids, to others on the list that were already controlled. Those included any substances prohibited by state or federal law, look-alike drugs, alcohol, anabolic steroids, drug paraphernalia, solvents and inhalants, and prescription drugs not used as prescribed.