School board to narrow focus on renovations

PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot

School renovations to keep up with enrollment could run $80 million, but Greencastle-Antrim School District school directors doubt they will spend that much. The board, with newly-appointed member Jim Winslow at his first meeting, heard refresher information from EI Associates senior vice president Mark Barnhardt on Jan. 9.

Part of EI's feasibility study was required by the Pennsylvania Department of Education in order for G-ASD to be eligible for PlanCon reimbursement for high school and middle school alterations. The big number would include 10 years' worth of improvements and construction, but the district should focus on Phase I first, Barnhardt said. Then, if the student population indeed grew significantly in five years, the board could look at spending the other $40 million for additional space. And with both phases, spending was restricted to the needs the board chose to address, he said.

The PlanCon reimbursement has long been touted as $21 million, but Barnhardt stated that it would actually be closer to $10 million, based on the district's aid ratio.

"You will get 50 cents on the dollar. You should go ahead on the secondary schools. Their systems are reaching the end of their cycle."

He hoped the school board would make a decision by March 6 because of the timeline necessary for design. Some priorities the board had to confront included full-day kindergarten; classroom size; keeping or eliminating programs; and allocating rooms for classes such as computer, library, art and music.

In the meantime, if temporary classrooms were needed, the cost was $450,000 over three years. And with all expansion, additional costs would come with more teachers and staff, Barnhardt pointed out.

"We have to determine what we can afford, and bring it back to the Facilities Committee," said board president Brian Hissong. "Then we can get creative."

The committee will meet at 5 p.m. Jan. 16, with members Winslow, Eric Holtzman and Ken Haines. It is open to the public.

Good reports

Kevin Stouffer, CPA with Smith, Elliott, Kerns and Company, presented the 2012-13 audit. He had no findings.

"The numbers, we felt, were materially correct."

The general fund balance was down from the previous year, but still at 10.5 percent of budget, within the healthy range of 8 to 12 percent, he said. He explained that the PSERS pension plan would appear as a liability in the 2015 audit, under new regulations. He was uncertain how that would affect the district's ability to purchase bonds.

G-ASD business manager Jolinda Wilson said collected taxes were $400,000 less than expected, though half was made up by other revenue. She predicted the same results for the next budget. While the district historically achieved a high rate of collection, "in tough economic times they're not paying their bill. If all came in, we would have been on target."

Superintendent Dr. C. Gregory Hoover received formal approval of his role, with a three-year extension to his contract. Hissong, Winslow, Holtzman, Haines, Lura Hanks, Tracy Baer, Linda Farley, Melinda Cordell and Mike Still unanimously agreed to retain his services through June 30, 2017.

Hissong said, "The last one or two years have been very challenging with personnel. He handled it very professionally. He did not shy away from those responsibilities."

Hoover announced that the school website was "a mess", and a new one would be constructed soon, perhaps from scratch. He wanted it to be a one-stop shop for residents. He also planned to live stream school board meetings.

"People will know what's going on a little bit better."