School budget OK'd with extracurriculars, most staff retained

Shawn Hardy

Two months after the potential for deep cuts, including staff and extracurricular activities, was announced due to a projected budget deficit of nearly $2.5 million, the Greencastle-Antrim School Board approved a 2020-21 spending plan Monday evening that is just $665 in the red.

The budget, with revenues of $41,348,848 and expenditures of $41,349,513, is supported with a 3.4 percent property tax hike, the maximum allowed. That means an increase for the average property owner of $83 as the mill rate goes from 112.84 to 116.68, according to Caroline Royer, chief financial officer.

Board member Mike Still said he knows this is a bad time to raise taxes and there is a lot of uneasiness over the economic fallout of COVID-19, but "this is one time to the max makes the most sense."

Dr. Carter Davidson said he and his fellow board members have done their best to pare the budget down, while focused on the best interests of students.

On April 29, the board adopted a "resolution of intent to reduce (furlough, suspend, terminate) professional staff and temporary professional employees, to furlough administrators, to terminate support employees and to cut extracurricular positions and programs for economic reasons." The resolution gave the required 60-day notice for any or all of those cuts to be made on June 29.

Dr. Kendra Trail, superintendent, termed April 29 as "one of the most difficult board meetings ever" and said it seemed like the district faced an impossible task.

The economic impact of COVID-19 worsened the already tight budget situation — due in large part to a state funding formula that means G-ASD has less to spend per student than most districts in Pennsylvania.

Several times during the meeting, the work of the administration, teachers union, staff and community — including the Greencastle-Antrim School District Supporters Facebook Group — was cited for finding ways to decrease expenditures to avoid most furloughs and keep extracurriculars.

Some staff cuts still needed to be made, including nine noontime aide positions furloughed at the elementary and primary schools saving $43,000.

The Greencastle-Antrim Education Association, the union that represents the district's teachers, agreed to a salary freeze and retirement incentive package. Retirement resignations were accepted Monday from three veteran educators: Ellen Kirkner, high school social studies, 26 years with the G-ASD; Susan Englehart, first-grade, 33 years with the G-ASD; and LuAnn Skutch, fifth-grade, 25 years with the G-ASD. The board also accepted the retirement resignation of June Hann, middle school attendance secretary.

The vacancy created by the retirement of Dr. Bob Crider, chief educational officer, announced last month, will not be filled.

A range of other reductions included administrators agreeing to a salary freeze; a salary freeze for support staff; a one-time reduction in the district's self-funded health care program; lower technology spending; building level cuts to budgets that have not increased in 10 years; and a lower storm water management fee since the Borough of Greencastle has received a waiver from the state.

In addition to the tax increase, the revenue side of the budget got a boost of $270,577 in CARES stimulus money.

Shortly after approving the next year's budget, some board members said they are ready to get to work soon on the spending plan for the following year.

"I don't want to wait until April or May," said Tracy Baer, board president. "There are fabulous ideas on the table ... We can't put it off."