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Tunkhannock Area School Board met virtually last Thursday and is preparing itself for a painful period in which board members expect to have to make some extremely tough decisions to keep the budget balanced without raising taxes.

Following a reiteration of chief operating officer Shane Powers’ previous meeting Power Point presentation regarding the 2020-21 school budget, she talked of finding $1 million in savings by not filling two positions of which veteran teachers have recently left and other positions that just won’t be filled and a couple of other things, but noted the board finds itself probably needing to close a $1.5 to $1.8 million gap to make sure there is not an issue with cash flow after July 1.

Board member Bill Prebola called the situation “worrisome,” and Holly Arnold acknowledged, “This is not just a Tunkhannock problem. Every school board is facing it. You can’t take blood from a stone.”

Board president Phil Farr predicted the next two weeks will be very difficult. “There will be definitely painful things to think about,” he said, with everything in the budget getting considerable scrutiny. “We’re doing the best we can, but...”

Powers noted that another burden is that WalMart had sought a reassessment of its tax burden this past winter and may also mean a loss of $36,000 in tax revenue for the school district.

Board member Rob Parry said they (WalMart) have been in a position to keep operating while other businesses are “out of business,” and suggested that surely they could hold off.

Board treasurer John Burke said he was in the camp to see if the district could buy some time with WalMart.

Prebola said that until the county returns to green phase, “We’re going to be going down a very emotional road.”

On Thursday, the board also got its first look at a 2020-21 academic calendar.

Superintendent Heather McPherson introduced a school calendar with classes opening for students on Aug. 24 preceded by four days in-service for teachers Aug. 17-20.

Labor Day would be off, and the Christmas break is set for Dec. 23-Jan. 1. The last official day of classes is preliminarily set for May 28.

Because of the pandemic, Farr said he was afraid that “an earlier start might be working against us.”

“If we can’t open, we will have to get a new calendar for sure,” McPherson said.

Burke asked about snow days and if they could be worked in via distance learning after this year’s experience.

A proposed 2020-21 calendar is expected to be voted on at the May 28 board meeting.

McPherson said at the front end of her remarks that she wanted to give Katie Wisnosky a shout of for being one of the governor’s finalists for Teacher of the Year.

“That is quite an honor, McPherson said. “We are so proud of her.”

McPherson also was glowing in her praise of Laura Charles who will be retiring at the end of the school term.

McPherson said the students were in their final push with classes to end June 5. “We need to make sure our students are online doing their very, very best.”

She also noted that graduation is still up in the air, “and we don’t know how it will look.”