School board holds budget work session

Shawn Hardy

The Greencastle-Antrim School District’s financial picture for the current fiscal year is neither behind nor ahead of previous years. It’s not great and it’s not terrible. The general fund balance has remained relatively flat at $5 million.

That was a perspective presented by Jolinda “JC” Wilson, chief financial support services officer, during a budget work session Monday night.

The board has a preliminary spending plan for 2017-18 with revenues of $37,514,315 and expenditures of $39,592,243 for a deficit of $2,077,928. Final budget approval is expected on June 15 and if the board raises property taxes the maximum allowed 3.5 millions, the gap would close to $1,388,409.

At least four of the board members at the work session indicated they would be in favor of the maximum increase, which would cost the average homeowner, with a property valued at $329,030, an additional $82.22, according to Wilson.

The district continues to struggle with a state funding method based on when the district was 1,000 students smaller.

Some board members repeatedly voiced their frustration with this gap and how the district can get help from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, even if that means becoming financially distressed.

“If I could figure out a way to embarrass the state into doing their job I would,” board President James Winslow said. He has been vocal and active in his criticism, but said members of the community need to let Harrisburg know how they feel.

“Fiscal distress doesn’t mean we don’t care,” board member Brian Hissong said, explaining it would “make the state come show us where we are spending incorrectly. I want the state to understand what is owed to us.”

“If we say, ‘State take us over,’ who are we going to hurt? The kids,” said board member Tracy Baer. She said the state would cut teachers or salaries and good teachers would go elsewhere.

One of the specific spending points discussed Monday was the addition of one sixth-grade teacher to help with the three-year enrollment bubble that is pushing up class sizes.

Even with two other teachers realigned to sixth grade, board member Linda Farley said classes sizes are still too big.

“Twenty-eight kids in a class bothers me,” Farley said. “I’m not trying to spend more money, just trying to make it equitable.”

The addition of a sixth-grader teacher, about $100,000, is not in the preliminary budget. Other items not included, but requested include network improvements, $13,000; primary school whiteboards, $24,000; band equipment, $15,000; and literacy coaches, $200,000, or literacy coordinator, $100,000.

The budget proposal also does not include salary increases because the teachers’ contract is in negotiation.

Additional budget discussion is planned before final approval on June 15. Board meetings also are scheduled at 6 p.m. today, May 18, and June 1 in the Antrim Township building.