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Select Cuts: Area School Districts Deal with Budget Issues

Some tough decisions had to be made when faced with funding shortfalls.

With Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed budget cuts reducing state funding for public education, Montgomery County school districts have been forced to re-examine their own budgets and find new solutions to make up for lost funding.

Norristown Area School District balanced the budget with a 2.198 percent millage tax increase and a reduction of services offered.

The district will eliminate its Teen Parenting Program and Teen Day Care program, according to the budget.

Five PRISM teachers, two speech clinicians, two physical education/health teachers, one technology teacher and one biology teacher were eliminated through attrition. Two PSSA teachers, one math coach and one community coordinator were eliminated by a realignment of the staff, according to the final budget.

To raise additional funds, ticket prices will be increased for the districts athletic events next year. Students will now pay $4 or $15 for season passes, and adults will pay $5 or $25 for season passes. The district is also eliminating seventh grade sports.

Upper Dublin School District thought outside of the box to balance its budget. The school board asked staff members for voluntary contributions to make up for the lost funding. The entire administration staff is donating $1,000 from their paycheck, while about 90 percent of the support staff is donating $250, said Upper Dublin Superintendent Michael Pladus.

“What we really wanted to do was try to promote the idea that we really are all in this together,” Pladus said. “We have an outstanding faculty and an outstanding staff.”

A giveback was structured into the teachers’ new contracts, and all together, the school district is receiving about $500,000 from the various in-house contributions, said Pladus.

The district is also raising millage taxes by 4.32 percent. A portion of that increase is to fund the debt from the new high school, said school board President Michael Paston.

Pladus said none of the major programs will be cut, and class sizes will increase, but will not exceed state regulations.

In addition, two teachers and two administrators retired after the 2010-2011 school year and will not be replaced, Thomas Sigafoos wrote in an email. Two teachers and the English department chairperson resigned and will not be replaced. Sigafoos also wrote that the number of instructional aids will be reduced by five.

Upper Moreland School District passed a zero percent millage tax increase when the school board adopted its final budget June 21. Of the nine teachers retiring this year, six of those positions will not be replaced.

“Basically, every position that has been vacated has either been downgraded or reorganized,” said Upper Moreland Business Director Michael Braun.

Superintendent Robert Milrod said that this will mean larger class sizes in the upcoming school year.

Braun attributed Upper Moreland’s zero tax increase and ability to maintain more staff positions than other schools to the district's small size and their savings over the years.

“I think that the school board and the admin worked hard to set ourselves up to basically ward off these things because we saw the economy was getting worse and worse, and we were a little more conservative,” Braun said.

Braun added that he believes next year will be more of a challenge and doesn’t expect that the district will be able to maintain a zero percent tax increase every year.

Perkiomen Valley School District is making up for the lost funding with a 1.6 percent millage tax increase as well as reducing or eliminating school programs.

Some transportation services have been eliminated, including elementary summer school transportation and late buses at 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. at the middle and high school, according to the district’s 2011-2012 General Fund Budget handout.

Other changes include increasing the high school parking fee from $25 to $50 and reducing paper use within school buildings, said Business Administrator Jim Weaver.  

One custodial position was eliminated, and professional staff positions were reduced through attrition. Perkiomen Valley had seven teachers retire at the end of the 2010-2011 school year and will replace two of those positions, Weaver said. This means that two elementary and three secondary teaching positions will not be replaced in the fall.

Abington School District’s staff agreed to a zero salary increase for next year to help balance the district’s budget, said community relations specialist Byron Goldtsein.

The school board passed a zero percent millage tax increase when it adopted its final budget June 28.

“We’re trying to do the right thing for our students and our residents,” Goldstein said.

Goldstein added that the district has been “very fiscally sound” over the past years. He said there will be no changes to programs or class sizes. In fact, the school board said the district will be expanding its Mandarin Chinese program in the fall.

The board also announced that it will be losing the equivalent of 14.7 staff members through attrition. These losses come from every department of the school district except transportation.  

Ten workshop meetings helped Wissahickon School District achieve a final budget for the 2011-2012 school year that includes a zero percent tax increase.

The district reduced its staff by the equivalent of 14.1 administrative, professional and support staff positions, said Business Administrator Wade Coleman. This accounts for full-time and part-time staff positions. He added that the district also eliminated a contracted mechanic.

The district also saved money through energy saving initiatives and a transportation consortium.

According to the district’s budget summary press release, the budget allows for the funding of new programs, including $500,000 for new science programs and $45,000 for music materials.

North Penn School District also passed a zero percent tax increase after a heated school board meeting. The district instead will demote 36 teachers, lay off 13 support staffers, and not replace the positions of the 35 teachers who either retired or left their jobs to balance the district’s budget.

School Board President Vince Sherpinsky said the teachers and support staff had the opportunity to accept a salary freeze and would have faced no demotions or layoffs. Superintendent Curt Dietrich said all of the administration agreed to a salary freeze.

The district also implemented changes for the students in the fall. Students will now pay a $50 parking fee for the year at the high school, and fees for parking violations and fines increased—including a new $25 fee for “careless driving.”

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