Cuts, tax increase and reserves could balance Greencastle-Antrim school budget

PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot
School board members heard the latest data on the Greencastle-Antrim School District from superintendent Greg Hoover, second from left, on April 17. Those pictured are Eric Holtzman, Brian Hissong, Tracy Baer and Linda Farley. Hoover presents the information annually.

Greencastle-Antrim School District will be $1.5 million in the hole next year, and filling it will take drastic measures, both in cuts and taxes increases.

Superintendent Dr. C. Gregory Hoover presented the State of the District at the April 17 worksession, with the full school board present, as well as approximately 40 visitors.

He explained the positive and negative places the district found itself in. According to data from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, G-A was well above state average in the PSSA and Keystone Exam test scores, and the School Performance Profile. It was 10th lowest in the state in per pupil spending, and was way below the state average in the number of teachers and administrators per student.

However, in terms of state funding, G-ASD lagged significantly because of the Hold Harmless formula. Enrollment had grown 47 percent since 1989, but Pennsylvania dollars had risen only 20 percent. That compared to 32 to 72 percent for the other schools in Franklin County, which were not growing. Fair funding would take care of the financial bind G-A was in, Hoover said.

“We’re not one to make excuses, but we’ve done everything we can to manage the budget. We are at the tipping point. We can’t raise taxes enough. The other option is to cut programs and the quality of education.”

Likely cuts and revenue sources

Hoover said the district had made cuts in the past few years that resulted in $3 million annually in savings. To tackle the pending deficit, he recommended restructuring the alternative education program, which would bring back the students at Manito. They would be housed in the portable classrooms coming from the Lancaster School District in May.

“Isolation is still part of the program,” he said. “These students caused a problem in the past.”

The move would save $175,000 a year.

The second cut was to change the copying system in the schools, to save $65,000.

Finally, one administrative position would be eliminated, with duties reconfigured among the others, to save $130,000.

Hoover also recommended the board raise taxes to the index of 2.629 mills, which would raise $492,000, and cost the average taxpayer an additional $60. Student parking would also go up from $3 to $25 for another $4,400 in revenue.

The district would still have to pull $625,000 from its $4 million reserve. If the entire deficit was balanced using the reserves, the fund would be empty in two years.

Hoover’s  plan would push the drain back until 2018-19, when a bond would be paid off. However, the incoming $1.5 million at that time would still not be enough to cover expenses, he said.

The school board will vote on the recommendations on May 1.

Other scenarios

Hoover shared other choices to save money. They were not recommended, but the board would make the decision.

Not replacing seven retiring teachers would save $750,000, but increase class size and result in cuts, including lightening the music program.

Trimming the purchase of literacy textbooks would save $125,000, but Hoover said the most important thing the school did was teach literacy. “It is our business.”

Eliminating extra-curricular activities would save $500,000. “No one in this room is a bigger supporter of extra-curricular activities than me,” he assured the crowd.

Band and chorus early morning bus runs could be stopped, to save $25,000.

Kindergarten, not required by law, could be dropped to save $1.5 million, or reduced to half-day, to save $700,000.

Finally, G-ASD could stop participating in the Franklin County Career and Technology Center, which would save $600,000 after the three-year transition.

Not on the table, yet

Hoover continued with the worst-case scenario. Future cuts, if funding did not equal expenses, could find the district getting rid of K-5 special classes, LPNs, all aides, advanced courses, world languages, the college advisor, coop/intern programs and the transportation system.

The school board could lower the credits necessary for graduation, sell district land, and actually not have a high school. As far-fetched as the idea was, he said G-ASD could just send the students elsewhere and pay for it.

There is hope

Hoover still expressed optimism that things would work out. He wanted higher contributions from the state. The district was making a concerted effort to influence lawmakers in Harrisburg.

He had already talked to the new senator, John Eichelberger, who was setting up a meeting with PDE and other senators. G-ASD would form a coalition with the other 10 percent of districts harmed by the Hold Harmless rules. He advocated everyone write letters to elected officials.

Board president Brian Hissong echoed his sentiments. He expected some sort of resolution at the state level.

“Eichelberger believes in fairness. He will fight for us.”

Melinda Cordell agreed that the entire funding formula did not need to be changed.

“We just want them to help the schools that need it.”

Hoover said if G-ASD actually reached the financial distress stage, as defined by PDE, the state would come in to tell them what had been done wrong.

“That will be a short visit.”

G-ASD was also heading for educational distress, he said. Pennsylvania had to change its formula or change Hold Harmless.

Hoover concluded, “We have to get them to change it or die trying.”