Mifflin County School Board begins 2014-2015 budget process

LEWISTOWN – Just six months into the current fiscal year, officials of the Mifflin County School District are beginning the process of developing a budget for the year 2014-15.

During Thursday’s business meeting of the Mifflin County School District Board of Directors, the board gave authorization to Chief Financial Officer Sean Daubert to begin preparing a preliminary Act 1 budget to be presented at the board’s January committee-of-the-whole meeting and eventual vote the following week.

“We need to get underway, Daubert told the board, which has four new faces this year. “The Act 1 law requires the board to do one of two things: Pass a preliminary budget that would allow us to apply for exceptions or to pass a resolution stating the board would not raise taxes more than Act 1 will allow, which is 3 percent.”

Daubert said he recommends the first option which, he noted, would give him more leeway, especially with the exceptions, which he believes would be granted in two areas: retirement and special education. In those areas, he said approximately $1.7 million could be raised.

At this point in the game, however, Daubert said everything is speculative.

“The budget is fictitious at best,” he remarked. “We don’t even have a guesstimate of what the state will do with funding for next year at this time. We do know two things: Retirement expenses are going to rise 16.9 to 21.4 percent, which represents around $1.1 million before reimbursement. After reimbursement, the net cost to the budget would be around $400,000. Secondly, we’re anticipating a 15 to 18 percent increase in health care costs because our utilization is excessive. We also anticipate a 4 to 5 percent impact because of extra fees and taxes under Obamacare.”

Daubert said other factors critical in determining a new spending plan include increased debt service for the junior high school renovation project and labor contracts, which are up for negotiations again in 2014.

“There are a number of items in the next six months that will have an impact on the budget a great deal,” Daubert stated. “I have no answers on them right now.”

Daubert said under state mandate, the board must have the first round of the budget passed in February, then pass a preliminary budget in May, with final passage by the end of June.

In other business Thursday, Orris Knepp of the law firm Knepp and Snook of Lewistown, spoke on behalf of his company during the public comment period. Knepp’s firm had represented the district for 10 years before being replaced in 2011 by the firm of Rhods & Sinon, LLC of Harrisburg. Knepp asked the board to send out request for proposals if it is planning to seek a change in solicitors.

“All we want is a fair RFP process,” Knepp said. “The current solicitor charges a lot more than we do and there was no RFP done with them. We just ask that you engage in a fair process.”

In other business, several teachers and parents of students at Lewistown Elementary School were on hand to voice their opposition to the possible removal of several substitute teachers at the school and replacing them with others.

Following a lengthy comment period, the board went into a 55-minute executive session to discuss the subject. The personnel portion of the agenda was not voted on prior to the deadline for this story.

In other business, Jerry Myers of Reynolds Construction, the managing group for two building renovation projects, was on had to give an update on the status of both.

“Over the Thanksgiving holiday, we got a lot of stuff done in phase 1,” Myers said of Indian Valley Elementary School. “We’re still working on the steps at the back of the cafeteria and the elevator shaft, which is almost up to the roof. Phase 2 is turned over and we’re moving into that area over the Christmas holidays. Phase 3, which is basically the music area, should be done on time.”

Myers said the recently approved renovation project at the junior high school will get underway shortly, noting that building permits need to be secured before the contractor mobilizes to the site, “probably in a week or two. I feel good about the contractors we have working on the junior high.”

In other action prior to the deadline for this story, the board:

Approved a request to waive the $650 fee for use of the high school auditorium for a performance by the U.S. Army Concert Band and Soldier’s Chorus which is scheduled for March 12. Prior to the vote, Sherry Morgan, the high school choral director, asked the board to waive the fee, noting these musicians are Juliard schooled and would be a tremendous asset to the community. She said she and band director Art Belfiore are also looking into the possibility of the groups performing for students during the day, but still isn’t sure of the exact timing of their arrival.

Approved a request to waive a fee of $225 for use of the East Derry Elementary School cafeteria for a benefit auction for a family that recently lost their home and belongings in a house fire.