Greencastle-Antrim school building project canned, portable classrooms coming

PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot

Four classrooms contained in one modular building are the temporary fix for space problems in the Greencastle-Antrim School District. The school board voted unanimously April 3 to suspend the high school/middle school alterations and addition project. They also authorized accepting a donation from the Lancaster School District for a portable building. G-ASD will contract for transportation and setup of the unit, not to exceed $75,000. It should arrive in May.

Superintendent Dr. C. Greg Hoover said the Budget Committee concluded there was just no money for the building project, and the Facility Development Committee responded, “We know that.”

The school district will campaign hard to change Pennsylvania’s ‘hold harmless’ rule, which has shortchanged Greencastle as far as funding, Hoover said. The state has not increased its share to G-ASD even though the district is one of the fastest growing.

“We have to correct the funding formula,” he said. “We’re in trouble if we don’t.”

Hoover, business manager Jolinda Wilson, and board members Eric Holtzman, Ken Haines and Jim Winslow had visited Lancaster and considered the modular a good deal. The rooms had air conditioning and separate outside entrances. Administration has not yet decided which classes will be housed there. It will be set up between the secondary schools.

The Facilities Committee supported adding more modulars as needed.

“They really are pretty nice,” Hoover said.

He added that the Lancaster building was essentially free, including all involved costs. If G-ASD purchased a new one for $221,250, it would also incur moving expenses.

Mike Still asked if the building project was now killed or mothballed.

Hoover said yes. No one was sure how the delay would affect Greencastle’s spot in the PlanCon pipeline, the state’s reimbursement program for major capital improvements. However, the modular solution would cost $61 per square foot, compared to architect EI Associates estimate of $220 for the proposed building project. Even with the plan’s 12 classrooms, the district did not have the money for the teachers, he said.

Melinda Cordell and Tracy Baer recommended the board still discuss options for future expansion, as the space problem would not go away.

Calendars finalized

The board approved the final version of this year’s calendar, with June 6 the last day of school, and June 7 remaining as graduation, all in spite of 11 snow days. Teacher professional development days were shifted to June 9-13 and 16, though Hoover said most teachers would not have to attend the final two due to flex days.

After some discussion, the 2014-15 calendar was finalized. The first day of school will be Aug. 25, the last day June 5, and graduation June 13. Two full weeks of vacation were scheduled at Christmas, although Dec. 22 and 23 would be makeup days for first semester snow days.

The vacant week before graduation bothered some board members. Hoover had put in 12 makeup days, which included all of the week of June 8. A motion to adopt the calendar as presented was approved 5-4, with Haines, Lura Hanks, Brian Hissong, Winslow and Baer in favor; and Holtzman, Still, Cordell and Linda Farley opposed.

Focus on science

Director of education Dr. Bob Crider requested the purchase of 240 science textbooks for sixth-grade, at a cost of $15,120. The board favored buying the series of books for seventh and eighth grade as well, as those requests would be brought up in future years. The 2014-15 budget covered books for one grade, and Wilson said any more would have to be paid for out of reserves. However, middle school principal Mark Herman explained that while he would love all of the textbooks next year, the students weren’t ready. The books for sixth graders would start building their science foundation as the school beefed up the curriculum. The older students needed a year to catch up.

The board voted 9-0 to buy textbooks for sixth and seventh grade, with a preference that they buy the eighth grade texts next year.

Budget update

Wilson shared that without a mill increase, the 2014-15 budget would include a $1,513,242 deficit, plus the cost of the seventh grade science textbooks. The cause of the deficit was using $500,000 from reserves to meet expenses for this school year; an increase of 7.5 percent in health insurance costs for employees; retirement payments into PSERS at $375,000; other textbook purchases; and due to a trend in the real estate collection rate, dropping expectations from 98 to 95 percent.

Wilson warned that some people wanted to draw down from the $4 million in reserves.

By 2016-17 it could be empty though, and that year “seems to be right around the corner to me.”

She saw revenues as increasing 1.13 percent, but expenditures going up by 4.11 percent, to account for the sizable deficit. The state index allowed G-ASD to increase the real estate tax rate by 2.6 mills, and with exceptions the board could levy 4.47 mills. The latter number would cost the average taxpayer an additional $103, Wilson said.

The school board will discuss how to generate revenue or cut expenses at the April 17 worksession, with a vote on the proposed final budget May 1.