Southern Tioga School Board passes budget with tax increase

BLOSSBURG – Southern Tioga School district residents will see another real estate tax increase in their tax bills next year, following action by the board Wednesday.

The board, minus Jim Kreger, who was absent, passed its $29.1 million budget 6-2 with a 3.8 percent tax increase in Tioga County and 4.58 percent increase in Lycoming County, above the 2.8 percent state index because of exceptions the district applied for and received from the state Department of Education.

Voting against the budget were John Ritter and Ivan Erway.

Ritter said he felt the cost per student in Southern Tioga, at $16,400, is too high, when the average cost per student in the state is $14,250.

“So we are more than $2,000 per student more expensive and we are in a poor district to boot, which makes things even harder,” he said.

“Now we are asking the taxpayers to pay exceptions and I don’t believe we’ve done our job yet to get costs in line to have a quality affordable education. We need to have a goal to get down to the average. I know there are reasons, we are rural and there’s transportation, but I will have to vote no for this budget. If it does pass, I hope we start soon to overhaul our cost structure to offer quality programs. We are spending more than everybody else and we aren’t getting better results and we need to take a hard look at what we are doing,” he added.

Millage in Tioga County will be 15.8 mills and 14.9 mills for Lycoming County.

The 1.2 percent earned income tax and 0.5 percent real estate transfer tax remain in effect.

Homestead/farmstead real estate reductions will be $197 for each approved homestead and farmstead within the school district.

In setting the millage rate, board member Sean Bartlett said he voted for the budget “and I will vote for this, not because I agree with it, but because I know we need to operate. But I do agree with John, we need to be attentive to the impact on taxpayers.”

In other business, the board approved a capital reserve fund budget of $120,900, about $3,000 higher than anticipated because of a higher estimate for tile work at Warren L. Miller Elementary School.

After some discussion, the board decided to pay for the work, which needs to be done over the summer at all of the district’s remaining schools, with 2000 bond money, except for $18,000 for scrubbers for two of the schools.

The board also approved contracting with Quad 3 to conduct a facilities study for $12,500, with reimbursable expenses not to exceed $1,800, pending solicitor review and approval.

The study will include architectural, electrical and mechanical structural condition of all buildings.

Interim Superintendent Sam Rotella reported that a meeting with about 16 faculty members from all schools resulted in a general consensus amongst high school teachers more toward laptops than devices, but with touch-screen technology.

“There was concern about the compressed time frame, but it may be something we need to do and just have a steep learning curve,” Rotella said.

The Intermediate Unit 17 representative is working on a quote of what the needed infrastructure would look like, Rotella added.

“He needs a four- to five-week lead to the start of school,” he said.

Needed infrastructure includes air conditioning for the server room and generators that will keep electricity on in case of a power failure, the cost for which could be “quite large.”

“As we look at using bond to finance part of this project, it is important to remember it is part of the reorganization and restructuring of all our facilities,” he said.