Juniata County School District – Budget, transportation dominate meeting

MIFFLINTOWN – Conversation over a budget for the 2014-2015 school year and concerns about district-wide transportation dominated discussion during a Thursday meeting of the Juniata County School Board of Directors.

The board approved a resolution authorizing the display and advertising of two preliminary budgets, per capita tax notices and display of a referendum exception notice.

The first budget, presented by business manager Richard Meily in the amount of $32,856,626, includes a real estate tax rate of 2.3388 mills, a 4.07 percent increase. These figures include a contribution of $5 million toward upcoming renovations to the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems at East Juniata High School, Juniata High School and Tuscarora Junior High School. The board also authorized the administration to work with Public Financial Management to proceed with the issuance of general obligation bonds to fund the capital improvements via a competitive Internet auction in the amount of $14.2 million.

A second budget option added three elementary school librarians a recommendation brought to the board’s attention during a workshop meeting held Tuesday evening among district administrators. The second budget, in the amount of $33,087,525 includes a real estate tax rate of 3.3503 mills, an increase of 5.83 percent.

The board requested more time to review finances before approving a final preliminary budget.

Also during the meeting, Director Glenda Leister presented a letter that was sent, without board approval, to Milford township announcing the removal of two bus routes in Mifflin Borough.

“That, to me, requires board approval,” she said, also reading from JCSD policy that states transportation coordinators are to prepare and submit a report to the board for approval of major changes to district transportation.

Leister said eliminating the two routes would affect 20-30 students in elementary and high school. Without busing, students would have to walk to school, navigating busy roads or a hazardous foot bridge over the river, she said.

“We’re going to expect a 5-year-old to cross that road?” she asked. “That’s an accident waiting to happen, and God forbid it happen on my watch.”

Leister said she absolutely opposed the change, to which Superintendent Richard Musselman responded that the possibility had not moved further than casual discussion. If other arrangements were made, he said, “someone took it and ran with it” in error.

Transportation coordinator Philip Adam stood to apologize for the confusion. He said he composed the letter, and that the wording used was more absolute than he intended. Based on area parameters, he said the construction of a foot bridge in Mifflintown meant that some students no longer qualified for busing with reimbursement by state dollars. The final decision on transportation is in the hands of the board, he said, but students will be non-reimbursed unless the bridge is determined hazardous by the state.

School board directors and the public alike remained opposed to the elimination of routes, despite possible financial repercussions.

John Yorks, who said he cares for the river bridge walk way and streets in Mifflin, said the bridge recently was impassable due to ice. He said it is a hazard for pedestrians in some weather conditions. Everyone wants to save money, he said, “but don’t do it at the expense of our children.”

Sam Stine, president of Mifflin Borough, said he hadn’t received the letter about eliminating routes, but mirrored previous comments about how to ensure that young elementary students arrive at school safely.

“I am here to work with the board,” Adams said. “That’s what I’m hired to do, and that’s what I’m here to do.”

The board did not take action either way over the elimination of routes during Thursday’s meeting. However, more questions arose over transportation in the district. Steve Casner, speaking on behalf of transportation providers, said Rohrer Bus company was asking contractors to provide $2 million of general liability insurance. Casner said the increase would translate to about $900 more per bus.

“To me, I think we’re being nickel-and-dimed to death,” he said. “I’d like to see the board take action and throw this $2 million general liability out.”

Director Melvin Brubaker made a motion to remove the general liability portion of the contract with Rohrer, stating that not taking action would be forcing drivers to get insurance they don’t need. Transportation providers, he said, should have the choice to maintain or add extra liability as desired.

Brubaker rallied the support of six fellow directors in a 7:1 vote to remove the general liability requirement. Director Joseph Shearer abstained from the vote, and Director Amy Wagner voted no, stating that she would like to have the motion tabled until the board could further review the request.

Also during the meeting, the board:

Approved Feb. 17 as a snow make-up day.

Approved the purchase of a Model 4500Y Ventrac tractor with Kubota engine, 72″ offset mower deck, V-blade, 49″ manual adjust terra rake and ball park groomer, for primary use at EJHS, at a cost of $28,160. The board also approved the purchase of a power broom at a cost of $3,275 and electric actuator for $210.

Approved financial reports for November and December and a list of bills for payment.

Accepted the resignation of Fayette Elementary School life skills teacher Nikki M. Bailey, effective Jan. 17.

Approved the purchase of an aluminum discus cage, at a cost of $2,099, and a runway, at a cost of $975, for the EJHS track and field team.

Approved a motion to put out to bid a request for new EJHS band uniforms.