District clarifies 2 elementaries could be closed

JERSEY SHORE — Faced with escalating retirement costs that are unsustainable based on tax revenues and state subsidies, the Jersey Shore Area School District superintendent is proposing the school board close both Avis and Salladasburg elementary schools.

Superintendent Dr. Jill Wenrich presented proposals to the school board Monday night and recommended one of two possible plans — a building closure plan and a program-cutting plan.

The building closure plan closes both Avis and Salladasburg elementaries, eliminating one principal position to save $116,441; two 10-Month secretary positions, $73,757; three custodial positions, $101,180; seven elementary teaching positions, $369,938 and reduces operation and maintenance costs to save another $193,160. The projected total annual savings under this plan would be $854,478.

The program-cutting plan eliminates $426,442 from art programs, $534,159 from athletics, $84,052 from band/chorus, $762,534 from CTE and $413,526 from music. Projected total annual savings would be $2.22 million. All amounts are 2017-18 budget amounts.

“My recommendation is to close both of those buildings as part of taking care of the financial deficit” the district faces, Wenrich told The Express on Tuesday.

Driving the deficit are retirement costs — the “major contributions that are increasing (for the district) for retirement on an annual basis,” Business Manager Benjamin Enders added.

The district’s current-year budget is roughly $41.5 million.

And like in most public school districts across Pennsylvania, retirement costs make up a major portion of the budget.

The administration, Wenrich said, is laying out multiple options as far as taxes and spending go, but “we don’t know where the board is going to go” with the recommendations.

With no tax increase, the deficit for 2018-19 is projected to be $1.4 million, and it rises beyond that year with no new revenues. Meanwhile, the district’s fund balance drops.

The administration showed the board deficit projections with no tax increase and with tax increases to the state-limited index.

Wenrich recommended the board take action to fight the deficits.

“It is up to the board to determine how to move forward,” she said. “I have made a recommendation so that the district, at the end of the next four years, is not in a deficit, a negative fund balance.

“You have three choices,” she told the board. “There are program cuts, building cuts or a combination of there of … we need to do something about the fiscal reality that we have.”

The district has seen a slight decline in student enrollment over the years. A chart presented by the superintendent showed enrollment at 2,654 in 2012, falling to 2,435 this year. Those are both down from 2,830 in 2008 — mirroring the trend nationally.

Wenrich also said with the possible recofinguration a grading struction would change to the following:

• Grades K-2: Jersey Shore Area Primary Center

• Grades 3-6: Jersey Shore Area Intermediate Center

• Grades 7-12: Jersey Shore Area Secondary Academy

Wenrich conceded that consolidation would mean a slight increase in bus travel for some, there would be a fear of change, and a “loss of sense of the school in my backyard.”

All of these projections, estimates and recommendations will be thoroughly discussed by the school board at meetings to be scheduled. Dates and times for those hearings will be firmed up once the board appoints a new member to fill a vacancy in Region 3.

Present at Monday night’s meeting were board members Craig Allen, Karen Stover, Merrill Sweitzer, Christopher Fravel, Denise Smith, Mary Thomas, Loren Koch and Kelley Wasson. David Hines was absent.

The next school board meeting is set for Nov. 28 at the District Service Center, 175 A and P Drive.

(Information for this story was jointly compiled by Cara Morningstar of the Williamsport Sun-Gazette and Bob Rolley of The Express of Lock Haven.)