Public gives opinions on tough 2012-13 Greencastle-Antrim school budget

PAT FRIDGEN
Residents lined the walkway to Greencastle-Antrim Middle School before the school board meeting. Parents Kelly Hefner, Amber Parks and Lori Facchina, center, were among the adults, students and young children expressing their opinions on issues under consideration before the board adopts the final budget in June.

A deficit budget for 2012-2013 was adopted by the Greencastle-Antrim School District school board on May 3, but the final say on cuts or a tax increase won't occur until June 7. Business manager Richard Lipella explained that Act 1 required passing a proposed final general fund budget at least 30 days before the defining vote. Board members Ken Haines, Melinda Cordell, Joel Fridgen, Brian Hissong, William Thorne, Mike Shindle, Tracy Baer, Eric Holtzman, and Mike Still approved revenues of $32,700,249 and expenditures of $33,151,082.

Lipella said the numbers were not exact, because since the previous meeting, he had found more savings. They included less tuition at the Franklin County Career and Technology Center based on the number of students attending, and using some of the Keystone to Opportunity Grant for purchases that also met district needs, as well as trimming in other areas. He felt there was "a strong potential" that the deficit could be under $100,000.

Citizens addressed the board on potential cuts next year or in 2013-2014. Charles White, former director of Tayamentasachta, the environmental center, defended the director position, which if eliminated, would save the district $85,000 in salary and benefits. The Advisory Committee had formed in 1981 to assist the director with school and community programs. "Those who think the center's programs will continue as they are without an educator are mistaken," he said. And "without a director, the Advisory Committee would not exist."

Brian Booze, the parent of two primary school children, said the curriculum would lose value over time and Tayamentasachta was a gem for the district.

People were also concerned about other effects of a tight budget. Ursula Horochowski cautioned against axing personal assistants, as they offered continuity to the students they served. Teacher Beth Powers wanted library aides to be retained. The middle school library was closed on any days the aide was absent, since there was no longer a librarian. She couldn't imagine a school without a library. Jerry Lute wanted sports cut over educational programs. Kelly Hefner, parent of two elementary students, was worried about class sizes if retiring teachers were not replaced. She didn't see that some classrooms had space for any more desks. All comments were met with a round of applause from a packed meeting room.

Booze and Hefner submitted written comments from people who could not attend the meeting. Board student representative Savannah Fritz also had a stack of papers from Civics students with their opinions. She said, "Extracurricular programs and sports mean a lot to the kids. Raising taxes is the only solution."

Hoover said the current budget has two fewer teachers than in the past. The following year the board would examine all personnel, but some jobs in jeopardy could be 10 support staff not covered by the current Memorandum of Understanding. That included library aides, copy clerks and personal care assistants not working with students with Individualized Educational Plans.

The board is considering how to face increasing deficits in the next couple years, based in large part on rising mandatory contributions to PSERS, the retirement system of school employees. While the 2012-2013 proposed budget did not get rid of the Tayamentasachta director or eliminate student activities, Fridgen wanted residents to know if the board might make those cuts the next year. He asked for a vote on those two items at the May 17 meeting so parents had time to react accordingly.

Members of the Greencastle-Antrim school board and Tayamentasachta Advisory Committee walked the western boundaries of the environmental center before the May 3 board meeting. They were clarifying the lines near the elementary and primary schools because the committee is considering a capital campaign to fund improvements.