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District looks to tax increase, evaluate positions

In spending over their budget this year, the Montoursville school board may deplete their reserve funds and be forced to raise taxes to or beyond the index, officials said at a work session Tuesday.

Many of the costs associated with running the district are inflexible running costs or mandated services the district is compelled to offer. The only alternative left to the board is to determine how or if staff may be cut.

“We are overspent, but fortunately our revenues are looking okay,” said Brandy N. Smith, business manager.

Mandated costs in special education, transportation and cyber charter schools, which are the largest budget items, have all exceeded their budgeted amount, said Superintendent Christina Bason.

Before the next meeting Bason said she will have met with other administrators to determine exactly how much the district has overspent.

“It is concerning, with how do districts manage and how do they prioritize?” she said. “That is up to the board, who sets the tone for the culture and the community and what they’re willing to have and what they can’t have.”

In previous years the board has cut 25 positions and the administrators have maintained that cut, but any future decreases will inevitably lower the number or quality of programs, said Daniel Taormina, high school principal.

“When you’re looking at not replacing a position, because of the cuts in the years prior, you’re cutting programs,” he said. “It’s not a talk about people anymore, the program will be cut with the person.”

With only $450,000 generated from raising taxes to the index, and the district looking at upgrading schools, Dale Ulmer, board member, said the schools would have to raise taxes substantially to avoid cutting positions.

“We’re already exceeding the index, just in meeting what we know is going to happen next year,” he said. “The age of ‘index only’ is not going to be at Montoursville for a while because we are going to be looking at funding a project down the alley.”

There is no “wiggle room,” in the budget to avoid raising taxes unless the board chooses to eliminate or alter positions to meet educational standards.

“Shouldn’t we need to be looking at every position that comes open and looking at what really is more important here?” he said.

The district has already been working to change the roles of the teachers to meet needs, however, said Bason.

“We’ve cut two librarians so that we can maintain elementary class sizes and hopefully so that we can computer sciences, which is a requirement of the Every Student Succeeds Act but we don’t have it,” she said. “So we’re doing that shift already.”

Currently, there are three vacancies in staffing: An elementary teacher, a middle school librarian and a high school art teacher, said Bason.

Although the high school library is kept open by use of an aide, the library at C.E. McCall Middle School may not be kept open at all school hours due to staffing shortages.

The best option, and the one the administration had planned to pursue, was to move a recently hired middle school science teacher into teaching a mandatory 7th grade computer science class in the library, she said.

“The library would become a STEM lab, in essence,” she said.

This would meet the mandate to teach computer science, and keep the library open at some hours.

The school board did not wish to have Bason further present the impacts of choosing not to replace the art teacher position, which would close the high school ceramics class room and put about 195 students in a study hall for that time, or the elementary teaching position, which would increase class sizes to about 28 students.

David Shimmel, board member, said that technology has reduced the need for a library.

“We have information available and knowledge available that has, to some degree, offset the need for library sciences or hard books,” he said. “It’s still needed but I don’t know what the balance is.”

Scott Konkle, board member, warned about the push to cut staff harming the educational quality of the schools.

“The more we start to cut, cut, cut, I think we need to be careful of where we land, and for the kids that are coming through,” he said.

There were no voting decisions made by the school board.

The district will continue budget discussions as part of the normal meeting time at 7 p.m. March 10 in Montoursville High School,

Members present: Dale Ulmer, Ronald Snell, Susan Beery, Jennifer Marriott Dottie Mathers, David Shimmel, Scott Konkle and William Ruffing. Daniel Albert was absent.

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