The Tunkhannock Area school board approved on Thursday a preliminary budget of $50.8 million for 2017-18 which as stands would see no property tax increase and an elimination of the per capita tax.
The board had before it three different versions of the proposed budget prepared by business manager P.J. O’Shea - all of which eliminated the per capita tax that board members agreed this past winter in principle would be eliminated as it only accounted for about $90,000 in revenue and was a sore spot for tax collectors who claimed it was costly to collect.
One budget had a tax millage rate increase of .323 mills which allowed for new property tax revenue to make up for the monies lost by eliminating the per capita tax. Another budget, reflected the same as the first with one additional mill. The third budget accounted for the maximum property tax millage rate allowed by the state Department of Education without having a referendum or special exception exemption.
Board member William Prebola said he would like to propose another option, which not only had no property tax increase, and with elimination of the per capita tax would provide those who pay taxes some relief.
He said the current budget if divided by the current enrollment of students in the district suggested it was spending roughly $19,500 per student.
“In my mind, that is just way too high,” Prebola said, noting he is constantly asked by people he encounters why the budget keeps going up when enrollment keeps going down.
“I agree it doesn’t make sense, even though I see the bills, and know the other side of it,” he said.
Prebola’s option got a second from board member Rob Parry who annually argues the same point.
“If we were a business, we would have been shut down a long time ago,” Parry said.
Board member John Burke chimed in that is why the board took on the consolidation issue of closing three elementary schools in 2018-19.
He said, however, that he felt it would take additional monies in the coming year to get to that point., and he supported the middle tax increase option originally proposed.
The board then voted 8-1, with Burke voting no, to have no tax increase and actually a small bit of tax relief with the per capita tax gone.
Board member William Swilley noted that regardless of what the board accepted Thursday night it was merely a number which by law it was required to put before the public for a 30-day review period.
“We could go up or down or keep it the same,” he said.
The board must formally vote on a final budget by June 30, and the last scheduled board meeting before that date is June 22.
Other business before the board was a new school calendar for 2017-18 with school beginning after Labor Day.
Superintendent Heather Macpherson explained that the late start would help planning for the following year’s consolidation, and she also said last year they recognized from a much earlier start that it was too blasted hot for some of the buildings.
The new calendar passed by an 8-1 vote with board member William Swilley voting against it.
In other business, the board elected John Burke as school board treasurer (for a 1-year term) and P.J. O’Shea as secretary (for a 4-year-term).
In the superintendent’s report was a resolution to approve appointment of Joe Reno as girls’ freshmen basketball coach for this past season, adjustments in salary for two assistant coaches who started after the seasons started, approval of volunteers, and approval of conference attendances by Karen Kutish, Andy Neely, Jason Keown, Jan Cechak and Deb Cechak.
Before the school board meeting, top readers in the district’s Accelerated Reader program were recognized.
Points were assigned by the number of books read and the corresponding level of difficulty.
Overall top point total student was fourth grader Brandon Mateus at Mehoopany Elementary School with 474 points.
Top third grader at Mehoopany was Alex Book with 253.9 points.
At Mill City Elementary School, top fourth grader was Keegan Franko with 377.5 points, and top third grader was Callum Jerome at 225.4 points.
At Evans Falls Elementary School top fourth grader was Lauren Bulkley with 343.9 points.
At Roslund Elementary School, top third grader was Cora Milner at 270.7 points, and top fourth grader was Hannah Milner with 233.9 points.