Seneca Valley ponders layoffs, higher fees, program cuts to balance budget

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Layoffs, decreased work weeks, reduced programs and increased fees were options presented to Seneca Valley school directors last week to close a $4.9 million gap in the proposed 2012-13 budget.

Superintendent Tracy Vitale, who presented the options April 2, said she expects board members to start deliberating on the cuts by April 16, their next meeting. The budget must be adopted by June 30.

"Our decisions in these next few months will impact our district for many years to come," she said.

Lynn Burtner, business administrator, said the proposed state subsidy in Gov. Tom Corbett's budget has flat lined and the district remains unclear on funding for special education and its retirement contribution.

"There is nothing new or extraordinary happening that we've found that will help us with [more] revenue," she said.

Among items intended to increase revenue that Ms. Vitale outlined were the sale of an acre in Jackson near the secondary school, website advertising, an extended day care program and charging universities $200 to send student teachers to the district. Ms. Vitale said the district gets 50 to 60 student teachers a year.

She outlined a number of possible cost reductions and personnel cuts, too. Those included laying off three administrators and not replacing one retiring administrator, laying off 9.5 secondary education staff members, reducing work days for paraprofessionals and technology service personnel, eliminating the elementary summer school program and having a four-day summer work week with extended hours.

The superintendent said that eight teachers and two administrators are retiring and she is recommended they replace only six of the teachers. She said a committee has been formed to talk to labor unions about budget cuts.

The district also is considering increasing the athletic activity fee from $75 to $125, nonathletic performance fee from $25 to $50, club fees from $25 to $35, parking fees from $60 to $75 and the activity bus fee from $25 to $35. Ms. Vitale noted that pupils who receive free or reduced-price lunches do not pay student fees.

The district also has the option to increase taxes, but the maximum allowed by the state, including special exceptions the district asked for earlier this year, would generate only $2.9 million, not enough to close the budget gap.

Ms. Vitale said several other options were investigated by administrators that she does not recommend. Those include cutting the Junior ROTC program, closing the pool and cutting the swim program, reducing Title I reading programs or further reduction of elementary school staff.

The superintendent noted that the district elementary class sizes already are larger than best practice recommendations.

One area the district isn't likely to tap for additional revenue is the fund balance.

Ms. Burtner said the district recently received a negative outlook on its bond rating because of the district's pattern of using the fund balance to balance the budget, and that could mean higher interest rates in the future.

"They want us to demonstrate that we won't use the fund balance to balance the budget," Ms. Burtner said.

education - neigh_north

Laure Cioffi, freelance writer: First Published April 12, 2012 5:15 AM


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