Wellsboro board OKs proposed final budget

WELLSBORO – The Wellsboro Area School Board approved its proposed final $23.9 million 2014-15 budget during its meeting Tuesday.

The budget, which had a $300,000 shortfall, will require a tax increase to the state index of 2.7 percent for the district but no exceptions, said district Superintendent Chris Morral.

For Tioga County district residents, real estate taxes will increase from this year’s 17 mills to 17.49 mills next year, and for Lycoming County taxes will decrease from 13.79 mills to 13.62 mills.

The tax hike will cover increases in health care and retirement contribution costs as well as increases in operating expenses and negotiated staff salary.

“The administration takes the budget process very seriously. We will continue to move forward and for faculty and staff being impacted, you will be contacted and we will have a face-to-face conversation about it. No questions are off limits. We are open to discussion as we work through the process and hopefully come June we will have a budget that will have the least amount of impact on students and staff,” Morral said.

Further, Morral encouraged residents to “do research as to what is taking place at the state and local level and where funding has gone the last several years.”

“As we continue down this road, we are taking very big steps backwards in education. Everyone needs to become involved and have an impact,” he said.

Board President Carl Chambers concurred with Morral, saying “the budget has been a hard process. Over the last few years we have cut positions mostly through attrition and again this year we will be eliminating at least two from attrition,” he said.

The funds to balance the budget will come two sources: $164,419 from the district’s Pennsylvania State System of Retirement and health insurance savings accounts and $163,762 from attrition.

“Our PSSRs currently has $1.4 million and health care has $935,000 so we are starting to consume those reserves, by design,” Chambers said.

Over the next five years those reserves will be consumed, he added.

“We are trying to minimize using those funds, but this will be the second year we will be using those funds,” he said.

“We are doing everything in our power to minimize the impact on students and staff. We really don’t have anything left to cut. We are trying to balance the needs of students and staff to provide the best education we can for our kids. So that’s where we are,” he said.

In other business, the board heard from Queen Street resident Cliff Cole, who asked about the planned sports stadium project.

Morral said that currently the Wellsboro Area Education Foundation has $1.5 million committed toward the project from various foundations, businesses and individual donations. No tax revenues will be used for the project.

“And we have applied for a Redevelopment Assistance Capital matching grant for up to $2.7 million. If approved by state we would receive matching funds for that,” he said.

The district should know by August or September if it has been approved and then “we have six months to raise up to the match or they will match what we have already raised.”

“We are hoping to raise $2.8 million and get the maximum as a match; if not then we will have to redefine the scope of work,” Morral said.