Board briefed on state funding

The South Williamsport Area School Board got an update on state funding at its Monday night meeting. District business manager Denny Artley illustrated trends in what the district has received from the state in several categories since the 2002-03 school year.

The general trend: funding is stagnant, if not going down.

“We got that grant when we started full-day kindergarten,” Artley said of the “PA Accountability” funding, which started at $168,620 in 2004-05. “It was funding most of the kindergarten program. Now it’s $79,883. It basically pays for the staff salary and fringes of one teacher, and if I’m a betting man when the budget comes out it’s not going to be there again.”

Artley noted that basic instruction and special education funding from the state has stayed basically flat since 2008-09, at around $5.6 million and $800,000, respectively.

Since 2002-03, retirement paid in by the district has gone up from $46,051 to $817,005 last year, with about half of that number refunded later.

“It started in 02-03 at 1.15 percent, and now it’s 16.89 percent, and going up 4 and a half percent each of the next four years,” Artley said. “My gut feeling is the state will cover the retirement. Over and above that is gravy.”

Overall, state funding has increased from $5,990,176 in 2002-03 to $9,209,754 last year, a number that also includes funding for transportation, building payments and Social Security.

Artley noted that part of that increase is due to the property tax reductions instituted in 2008-09 from casino funding, a number that’s stayed right around $560,000 over that time.

“They’ve opened how many casinos since then, and revenue stays the same. Amazing,” board president John Engel said.

Superintendent Mark Stamm explained that the property tax reduction is a set amount, divided by the number of homes eligible, and that any amount coming to property owners is reduced out-of-state funding to the district “by the penny.”

Kathy Furman, Central Elementary principal, updated the board on the new reading program that’s in its first year.

“I was in a kindergarten classroom and they’re asking kids to name nouns. In what, week six. It’s just awesome, a very rigorous program,” she said. “We have needed consistency in the skills that were taught and how they’re taught and how they’re built upon, and this program offers this potential.”

Stamm said that assistance from Intermediate Unit 17 is necessary to help implement the program, because it is “written for kids from New York City to Los Angeles to Houston – publishers pack everything in it to serve any kid anywhere.”

Finally, the board approved the retirement of Susan Lamont, high school English teacher, after 24 years of working for the district.

“Mrs. Lamont is one of those teachers I hate to see go,” high school principal Jesse Smith said. “She always got to know her kids and talk with them about the deeper meaning.”

“A lot of kids come back from college and say how much she affected them with the writing and the analytical part,” Engel said. “My family took a trip up to Boston last summer, because of the impact she had on my son. He wanted to see Walden, the forest.”