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Daniel Boone School Board members and district residents were subdued Feb. 27 as the board took action by restoring the half-day kindergarten program and extracurricular activities (including sports) at a price that worried many for the district’s future financial sustainability.
Board member Walter P. Sheehan, whose previous two motions this month to put kindergarten back into the budget (with the sight-line that there would be $475,000 for that program) were defeated, introduced a different “package” on Feb. 27.
The board unanimously approved to use the slated $1.2 million plus an additional $800,000 (total $2 million) of the $3.5 million fund balance, as well as $666,333 of tax revenue from a tax levy to the index (without the use of the special education and retirement exceptions).
The crowd of about 500 people was unexpectedly quiet throughout the meeting — only two days after frustrations about potential program cuts prompted angry outbursts on Feb. 25, including snickers in response to the board’s statement that people make financial donations to save programs.
Sheehan said the board will continue to focus on revenue enhancement ideas from that committee as well as continue negotiations with its four contractual partners: the Daniel Boone Education Association, professional staff, support staff and the transportation companies.
Despite the budget adjustment, the board still has a $1.93 budget deficit to reduce in order to bring back the elementary basic skills program, four Middle School core curriculum teachers, a high school science teacher, business teacher and physical education teacher, a school psychologist, elementary band, elementary encores and some elementary teachers that would be furloughed due to declining enrollment.
Superintendent Dr. Gary L. Otto reminded that upon the actual use of $2 million from the fund balance in June, the district is immediately $1.3 million in debt.
Public comment, which followed the vote to restore kindergarten and extracurriculars, echoed the board’s concerns about the remaining fund balance, the resulting debt, and the selection of extracurriculars over curriculum.
“Eliminating this is absolutely crazy — you’re still doing the same thing,” said Tina Jolivette, Douglassville, who yelled to the board that kindergarten is not mandatory.
“Are you planning to go to college or only trade school?” asked Jolivette to the crowd that was already beginning to depart the auditorium.
“Before this is over — and it’s not over until June — I won’t let those programs be cut,” said board member Frank Cerminaro, adding, “I’m not going to allow those things to get cut for the seniors. We’re doing this in stages to try to fix those problems.”
Birdsboro resident Angela Snyder said she doesn’t want to see any programs cut but kindergarten and sports “are integral in education and in creating well-rounded students” and thanked the board.
“I’m almost afraid to say this, but the Taxpayer’s Association thanks you,” said Robert Martino, Douglassville, chairman of the DBTA, referring to the fact that the tax levy recommendation could have been to the 1.26 mills permitted with the two exceptions.
The 1.26 mill tax levy would increase the millage rate from 28.96 mills to 30.22 and raise $1.25 million.
Annual tax bills on a property assessed at $100,000 would increase from $2,896 to $3,022.
Douglassville resident Joseph Koury said the $666,333 tax increase revenue money should fund kindergarten and extracurriculars for years to come, “and let’s not have this discussion again.”
Robin R. Vidovich, Douglassville, said it seems the board is cutting off a limb at a time while the district will also be more in debt with a $2 million loss from its fund balance.
“The REC won’t stop looking at ideas — it will continue to happen until we can level off,” said board member Monica Hamill, also chair of the REC. “Not eliminating kindergarten and extracurriculars is a hooray but we will be paying for them in some way.”
Otto said he can’t yet disclose potential savings from possibly closing the Amity Primary Center.
The board’s vote to close APC will occur on May 6.
High School Principal Thomas Hankel presented information about block scheduling, which includes a minimum of one year to implement with staff and educating the community.
Sheehan said block scheduling has been successful at a school district in upstate New York that has similar demographics to Daniel Boone; it has helped the district to “save” its sports program without significant tax increases.
“The key drivers of the budget are expenses, specifically salaries, which are increasing by $1.5 million,” said Otto, adding that medical has increased by $428,000, social security by $114,000, and retirement by $1.25 million, which was $300,000 to $400,000 two to three years ago.
He said the board has reduced expenses the last three years by $9 to $10 million due to deficits of $5 million in 2010-11, $5.5 million in 2011-12, and a $3 million deficit in 2012-13.
Those reductions have meant furloughing 65 classified staff (aides are used now only for special education students), reducing full day kindergarten to half day, a reduction in Middle School and High School library services, the institution of an activity fee, a reduction in administrative staff, the change from an athletic director and assistant to an athletic facilitator, curtailment of the Middle School foreign language program and fourth grade band, and the consolidation of some bus runs.
Balancing the budget has also required using $750,000, $641,000 and $1.3 million from the district’s fund balance, and one tax increase in 2010-11 of .77 mills.
Board members closed the meeting with recommending that residents tell their municipal officials they want economic development in the Daniel Boone School District.
“It now takes three to five years to get a plan approved,” said board President Andrew Basile. “We’ve made the overtures to our municipal partners. People don’t want development in their backyards.”
“Municipalities hold up economic development,” said Sheehan.
Basile said the district is seeking tenants for APC in the event the board approves its closure for the 2013-14 school year.