School board ponders options to reduce district’s deficit

JERSEY SHORE — The Jersey Shore Area School Board discussed the 12 options of program cuts provided by administration in order to deal with the district’s deficit and did not eliminate any as possibilities for the district.

The district is faced with a tough decision in deciding if it wants to close two of its elementary schools and do a reconfiguration, cut programs, raise taxes or some combination of the options.

Ben Enders, business manager, gave a recent update of the budget reflecting a districtwide deficit of $1.8 million. The updated numbers included projected estimates from the governor’s proposed budget and updated expenditures for the district.

“The hope is that we can have good conversation and deliberation this evening,” said Kelley Wasson, board president. “Keep in mind that this is a process that’s going to be going into April and May.”

She said that the public had an ample amount of time to share their thoughts on any part of the process.

“(The board) have not had the opportunity to work through any part of the information given by the administration to us,” she said.

She asked the public to remember that it was a process.

“We are at no point in this discussion making decisions that will impact the end of this process tonight,” she said. “We are going to go down through the list of options … and we are going to just discuss the viability of those options. Are they viable? Are they something to consider, or are they something that we are just not going to consider at this time?”

She said they wanted to be as thorough as possible, and that other work sessions were planned to discuss other issues separately. She said a future work session would be planned to discuss the possibility of school closures and another would be planned to discuss the feasibility of any ideas offered by the public just like the one regarding administration suggestions.

The main possibilities the board discussed:

• Negotiate a 2018-19 wage freeze for all employees.

• Teacher early-retirement incentives.

• Elementary classroom furloughs.

• Program cut of middle school Life Applications.

• High school classroom furloughs.

• Custodian early retirement incentives.

• Program cut of elementary art and music.

• Removal of the 1:1 iPad initiative K-2.

• Eliminate middle school and high school club advisors

• Limit use of fitness center.

• Eliminate ninth grade sports

• Moving/sale of administrative building.

Overall, the board felt it needed more information in order to eliminate options and did not decide to eliminate any as possible choices and felt many options were contingent upon other options.

“It’s difficult,” said Merrill Sweitzer, board member. “There’s too many variables.”

“The bottom line is we have to start somewhere, and we have to move through the process. We have a long way to go until we get to definitive answers,” Wasson said. “Right now, we’re just trying to establish what we keep and what we toss.”

The board did not vote to toss out any of the options and instead hopes to get more information, especially from the feasibility study results scheduled in April.

Present at the session were members Wasson, Sweitzer, Craig Allen, Karen Stover, Christopher Fravel, Michelle Stemler, Mary Thomas, Harry Brungard and Dr. John Pecchia.

The next school board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. March 12 at the Jersey Shore Area School District Administration Building, 175 A and P Drive.