Mifflin County School District – Preliminary budget presented

LEWISTOWN – The Mifflin County School District Board of Directors was presented with a preliminary 2014-15 budget during a workshop meeting Thursday.

Sean Daubert, chief financial officer, presented the Act 1 spending plan that totals $69.6 million, which allows for a tax increase of no more than 2.5 mills, when calculated exceptions are included.

“The Act 1 index allows the Mifflin County School District three percent, or roughly one mill (of tax) with calculated exceptions. We believe we can go to 2.5 mills, which is what is built into the budget at this time,” Daubert said prior to the meeting.

The board is scheduled to vote on the preliminary plan during next Thursday’s monthly business meeting.

Superintendent James Estep noted that the 2.5 millage increase in this initial plan may not be what the board passes in the summer.

“The community needs to know that there are so many factors beyond our control that are required by the state,” Estep noted. “Labor laws, medical and health trends are the kinds of things that makes the (budget) process last for nearly a half a year. The fact that we have to put a budget out right now is due to state mandates. When the community sees the potential of a tax increase, it doesn’t mean it will actually turn out that way. Some expenses might change in size and scope. If that happens, we hope it doesn’t change in the wrong direction and we don’t need the 2 and a half mills. Our goal administratively is not to go to that.”

Daubert said the major expense drivers in the new budget include the district’s contribution to the state retirement system. “Those rates are going from 16.9 percent to 21.4 percent, which equates to a $1.1 million additional expense to the budget,” Daubert explained. Daubert said another expense built in includes payments for the renovation projects currently going on at Indian Valley Elementary School and Mifflin County Junior High School. “The state has not yet sent through our reimbursement for those projects, so until it does we will build those expenses into the budget,” Daubert said. “Hopefully, we’ll get paid back for those.”

The increase in healthcare benefits will also be significant, Daubert noted. “Our first estimate for health insurance renewal is a 17 percent increase,” he said. “That’s about a $1.5 million increase to the budget.”

As far as revenue, Daubert said it is too early to determine whether or not basic education funding will rise or not. “The governor doesn’t have to present his budget until February and then we have to go through the legislative process,” he stated. “Because of that, I haven’t built in any increases as far as basic state funding. We’ll know more as we go through the winter and spring.”

Other issues that figure to impact the budget, Daubert said, include negotiations with the teachers union, as well as other bargaining units, which will see current agreements expire at the end of June. “We don’t have any potential increases built in as of yet in terms of those contracts,” Daubert added.

Estep said possible state mandates regarding offering remedial courses as a result of test scores from PSSA and Keystone testing could result in the need to add more teachers. And, he added, “Putting mandates aside, I’m still not satisfied with some of the class sizes in the early childhood grades. The only way to fix that is to add some staff to those grades. I don’t know if our budget can accommodate that or not.”

Estep said that with so much riding on events in Harrisburg, it is important the local community take a keen interest in what is going on on the state level. “Right now with the governor’s stance on no new taxes at the state level, the burden clearly shifts to the local level to make these decisions,” Estep commented. “That’s great if your campaign pledge was not to raise taxes. It’s not necessarily great here at the ground level. Education funding hasn’t increased since a billion dollar cut a few years ago. It really puts a huge burden on local districts’ homeowners. But, it’s great for keeping a campaign promise.”

In other business Thursday, a lengthy discussion ensued on a potential need to add staff next year in response to state mandated remedial classes that must be offered to students who do not pass the state’s Keystone Exams.

Vance Varner, director of secondary education, presented the board with two options, one which would add four teachers and another which would add two. A portion of some of the teacher salaries would be eligible from the district’s Keystone Grant, Varner noted. Those two options will be added to the agenda of the board’s Jan. 23 meeting.

In other business, Mark Crosson, principal of Mifflin County High School, was on hand to discuss his recommendations of making changes to the course weighting program for honors and advance placement classes currently being offered at the high school. Crosson said the current formula used by the district is lower than those of schools of comparable size.

“This has been an exhaustive and collective effort,” Crosson noted. “We’ve done a lot of comparative research on how changing of the weighting would affect our kids, who are competing for college admission and scholarships.”

By raising the weighting slightly to match comparable schools, Crosson said, “This would enable our students to be on an equal footing with other applicants when applying for college or scholarships. They (colleges) want to compare apples to apples and this would give our students equal footing.”

If the board approves the changes, Varner said they would go into effect next school year.

In other news, Jerry Myers, representing Reynolds Construction, manager of the ongoing renovation projects at Indian Valley Elementary and Mifflin County Junior High Schools, was on hand to present the board with an update on both projects.

Myers said the project at the elementary school has entered into its final stages, with contracted work expected to be completed by the end of February. “Things are coming together out there really well,” he commented.

With regard to the junior high school project, Myers said, “They’re just getting kicked off over there. They’re doing some demo work in the auditorium area but the rest is mostly just paperwork at this stage.”

Other agenda items for the board’s Jan. 23 business meeting include:

A recommendation to hire Tracy Bastress as lead custodian at Mifflin County Middle School.

A recommendation to hire Timothy Haigh as a part-time custodian.

Approval of Holli Barger as the district’s first-alternate delegate to the Mifflin County Tax Collection Committee.

The resignation of Tracy Bastress as a part-time cafeteria worker at the Career and Technology Center to take a full-time custodial position.

Approval of Pauline Belfiore as a van driver for Fisher Brothers Inc.

A recommendation to name Steven Schaaf as the director of elementary education effective Jan. 2.

A recommendation to hire Sierra Chesney as a temporary second grade teacher at East Derry Elementary School effective Jan. 6, for the remainder of the 2013-14 school year or less.

Approval of the following retirements effective at the end of the current school year: James Bailey, reading teacher at the middle school; Randy Loht, math teacher at the high school; and Karen Korona, third grade teacher at Indian Valley Elementary School.

A recommendation to accept the retirement of E. Terry Styers, principal of East Derry and Strodes Mills Elementary Schools, effective June 30.

A recommendation to delete Laura Litwiller, William Logan and Jessica Butler from the substitute teacher list.

A recommendation to add Lindsay Foltz, Jenna Peachey and Amy Ruschaupt to the substitute teacher list.

A recommend to approve the revised job description for the director of elementary education.

A recommendation to hire Chelsea Zook as assistant junior high field hockey coach for the 2014 season.

Approval of David Stuck and Craig Bubb as volunteer softball coaches.