The Tunkhannock Area School Board voted 6-2 Thursday night for a proposed final budget of $49 million for 2019-20 that would see an increase in the property tax bill by two mills.
Lori Bennett and Bill Weidner voted against the measure and Rob Parry was not present.
Board member Bill Swilley said the final budget when voted on June 13 might very well not look like what the group was talking about Thursday night.
The budget discussion was preceded by a Power Point presentation by TA Chief Operating Officer Shane Powers.
She explained that 86 percent of the budget was fixed with 41 percent going to wages, 30 percent to benefits, 7 percent to debt service, 6 percent to transportation and 2 percent to utilities.
That meant that only 14 percent was all that could be adjusted.
She then showed a slide about savings realized from consolidation (via incremental personnel attrition savings), which was $896,734 in 2018-19, but only $301,307 for 2019-20.
Powers added a slide that gave a history of tax increases in surrounding districts.
She then explained that the median household assessment in the Tunkhannock Area School District of $30,000 with a one mill increase would yield $30 increase per household; and overall, a 2-mill increase could yield $566,186 in additional revenue.
A copy of a proposed final budget with a 2-mill increase can be found online and represents the following shifts from what has been projected for 2018-19 by the time the budget cycle is over.
It suggests major increases of $340,000 in special programs, $246,000 in vocational education, $117,000 in support services, $186,000 in operation of maintenance of plant services, and $147,000 in student transportation services. It also shows a substantial reduction of $477,000 in support services-instructional staff (library, technology). These specific increases and decrease were not addressed during Powers’ public presentation to the board.
Board member Holly Arnold said the Budget and Finance Committee of the board recommended the 2-mill increase.
John Burke said he actually was “a lover of lowering taxes, but the reality is that we need to make some tough choices.”
He said that if the tax increases were not made, “We’d have to do headcount reduction,” and nobody wants that. He also suggested the fund balance carryover would be needed with any future debt service issues.
Board president Phil Farr said the district wanted to keep its quality of education and he realizes that comes at a cost.
That’s when the board took the 6-2 vote, saying it would take a final vote on June 13.
Earlier in the meeting resident Joe Sick raised a serious concern about an incident at the primary center (the former Roslund Elementary School) two days earlier.
He noted that he was on a Triton Fire Company call to the school building after an alarm went off.
Sick shared a picture of the primary center with buses all around parked in the fire lane.
“The short of it is that we could not get any fire apparatus in there,” he said, asking about why a road was never built around the building in case of just such emergencies.
“God forbid anything happened to someone if this were a real fire,” he said. “This is a big fat ‘F’ in my book... What I’d like you to do is rectify this problem.”
He counted the number of buses around the building and then wanted to know why it took that many buses to transport 457 kids.
“You should have only sent nine down there,” he said. “You have a very serious problem the way you’re doing this.”
Sick said the issue could be easily resolved taking the nine busloads of kids to the Triton parking lot and redistributing them to other buses that would get them home.
Superintendent Heather McPherson said, “We did talk about doing this at one time. We worried about my babies and decided that would not be the safest solution” with them all potentially walking around moving buses.
“Tell that to OSHA,” Sick said.
McPherson said that staff had been debriefed about the incident Wednesday morning.
“I stand by the way we did it, and have the students’ safety foremost in mind,” she said. “I never promised perfection.”
Another audience member started to ask McPherson a question, but board member Arnold stopped the tone of the conversation, noting Sick had used up his allotted five minutes of time.
On Thursday, the board also approved a curriculum guide for the high school.
In response to a question by Sick regarding why driver education was no longer being taught by Tunkhannock, and would it be in there for 2019-20, McPherson gave an abrupt ‘No.”
Board member Bennett said she wanted to know why the curriculum guide was being given to the board this late in the cycle.
“It seems your choices have already been made. I’d like to see this changed for the future,” she said.
The board also gave its final approval for a 2019-20 calendar, with school starting August 25, and ending June 5, with built-in snow days, and previous concerns from the board and public addressed.
The board also approved a memorandum of understanding between the Tunkhannock Area Education Association and the Tunkhannock Area School District and a resolution authorizing superintendent Heather McPherson and assistant superintendent Mary Gene Eagen to file grant applications on behalf of the school district; and the approval of bus/van contract amounts.
There was discussion of a board policy dealing with concussion management, with board member Dr. William Prebola still challenging language. A second reading was approved.
The board also approved Tunkhannock Township patrolman Steve Williams as a part-time security officer, with Bennett wanting to know why the position was never advertised.
Rich Seaberg said there wasn’t a specific position but rather that Williams name was added to a list of persons who might be called up should security needs arise for after-school events.