Budget with no tax hikes approved

LEWISTOWN – Contrary to numbers released in its preliminary budget in January, the Mifflin County School District Board of Directors was presented with an updated version of the spending plan on Thursday that is balanced and does not include a tax increase.

Sean Daubert, the district’s chief financial officer, presented an update on the 2013-14 general operating budget that totals $62,215,713 during a special budget meeting that does not include federal program budgets and other program budgets which will combine with the general operating budget to make the final general fund budget in June.

Daubert said January’s estimated budget included a 5.05 percent tax increase in order to balance. A lot has changed since then.

“When we were putting together a preliminary budget in January, we had to operate on a lot of assumptions,” Daubert said after the meeting. “We had to assume the highest potential. Now, as we’ve worked through the spring I’ve had approximately 22 retirements and staffing requirements have come in from the principals. So we know much more now than we did in January. We have a much clearer picture as far as expenditures. We were able to balance this budget without a tax increase.”

Daubert said the school board may still have to consider an increase to cover debt service on some rehabilitation projects currently under way in the district, but that will be determined at a later date as state reimbursement figures become a little more clear.

Board President Walter Harpster commented on the updated budget plan.

“I’d like to thank our administration for making a good budget,” he said. “I like hearing that it’s balanced. I’d like to hear this every year.”

Superintendent James Estep also lauded the no-tax-increases spending plan.

“We continued to work on paring this budget down to get it balanced,” Estep said. “The last time we met we reported a deficit of $337,000. It’s not been fun with this budgeting process. However, it’s been a little easier to contend with because of what you (the board) were able to do the past few years. I still have some concerns, but you could balance your budget just the way it is tonight.”

Daubert said the operating budget will see savings in the fact that the district will once again receive a state Accountability Block Grant. Because of that, he said he was able to move five kindergarten teaching positions out of the operating budget because they will be funded through the grant. The aforementioned retirements were instrumental in creating substantial savings as well, Daubert pointed out.

Other savings included a 10 percent reduction in federal programs, adjustments to the Career & Technology Center budget, keeping the budget reserve the same as in the past few years and a reduction in the professional development budget.

On the revenue side, Daubert said he budgeted an increase in the collection of delinquent real estate tax line items based on increased numbers this year.

“We will be receiving well over $200,000 to the positive this year so I was confident we could raise that,” Daubert said.

In accordance with state law, the district will have to have an approved proposed budget in place in May. That document will then be available for public inspection for 30 days until final adoption at the end of June.

Following the budget discussion, the board held a brief committee-of-the-whole meeting and outlined the following agenda items that will be up for consideration during a voting meeting set for April 25:

A recommended approval of Algebra I, Algebra IA and Algebra IB as planned courses for the next academic year.

Consideration of a request by the Lewistown Rotary Club to use the Indian Valley Elementary Center grounds for the 40th Annual Big Valley Invitational cross country meet and to have the fee waived. The event is scheduled for Aug. 31.

A recommendation to hire Joann Carolus as a custodian at Mifflin County Middle School.

A recommendation to add Dana Shank to the cafeteria substitute list effective April 8.

A recommendation that Carol Gantz be awarded the temporary 6.75 hour full-time cook’s helper position at Indian Valley Elementary Center.

Acceptance of the resignation of Joann Carolus, two-hour cafeteria worker at the Career and Technology Center.

Approval of the following bus drivers: Jacqueline Walk for Fisher Brothers, and John Hopple Jr. and Jared Lightfoot for J&D.

Acceptance of the resignation of Toie Lewis, Title 1 math teacher at Strodes Mills Elementary School, effective April 15.

The following additions to the substitute teacher list: Hannah Wagner, health and phys ed; David Stine, all subject areas; and Sara Taylor, all subject areas.

A recommendation to accept the resignation of Starla Fogleman, first grade teacher at Union Elementary School, due to other employment.

Acceptance of the resignation of Cynthia Shoemaker, teacher of hearing impaired district-wide, effective April 9.

A recommendation to hire Alynda Lewis as a paraprofessional at Lewistown Elementary School for 4.5 hours a day, effective April 8.