Options open on proposed final JS budget

JERSEY SHORE – The Jersey Shore Area School Board kept its options open as it continues to work toward balancing its budget at Monday’s meeting.

In a previous Sun-Gazette report it stated the board was facing a $520,000 budget deficit for the 2013-14 school year.

In order to keep three options of balancing the budget open, the board approved a proposed final budget that included using Act 1 Index exceptions to increase real estate taxes past the Act 1 Index.

Superintendent Richard Emery said the board will decide on one of three options available to it by June 24 to balance the budget. Emery outlined the options as: raising taxes past the Act 1 Index using exceptions; raising taxes to the Act 1 Index and making about $250,000 in cuts to programs; or closing a school and making about $60,000 in cuts.

By preparing the proposed budget with the exceptions, it allows them to go with any option, Emery said. Not including the exceptions in the proposal would eliminate that option.

“That is not final,” Emery said on the increase in the proposed budget.

Emery said if the district is forced to cut $250,000, it would do so either by limiting and cutting programs and athletics or by increasing class sizes.

“The last thing we want to do is cut programs period,” Emery said.

The additional $60,000 in cuts that would be needed if a school was closed, would come from a variety of places, Emery said after the meeting.

The only school eligible to be closed currently in the district is Nippenose Valley Elementary School, as it was the lone school discussed at a public hearing in March.

During courtesy of the floor, Keith Barrows, of Porter Township, said although he is unaware of any such cuts, he asked the board to not cut its music and art programs. He reported there were many academic benefits for students who participate in the arts.

Carol Homler, of Porter Township, also asked the board to not cut educational programs, saying that every action has a reaction. She said the board should do what it needs to in order to keep programs, even if that means closing a school.

“A vote to not close a school, is a vote to cut programs,” she said.

In other business, the board decided that Emery would be able to approve change orders for the Jersey Shore Elementary School construction project at the recommendation of Fidevia, the district’s construction management firm. Emery would inform the board of the change orders and the board would approve them retroactively at the following board meetings.

The decision was to keep the project moving.

“The timeline is very tight on this project and we don’t want to be responsible for holding it up in any way,” said Adrienne Craig, business manager.

Paying for the project is what had Burt Francis, borough resident, concerned during the meeting. He said that having to potentially pay $58 million on the bond issue has him wondering where the money will come from.

“I don’t think we can pay that,” he said.

Francis also said he is waiting for a response from the district to his inquiry on state reimbursement for construction projects at the district’s middle and high schools that took place more than 10 years ago. He asked if the district has received any reimbursement from those projects.

The board also directed Emery to explore subdividing some of the district’s property. The board is exploring this in order to make sure Little League fields on properties would continue to be utilized by the community, even if buildings or property is sold.