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Mt. Pleasant reaps energy savings, but facing $1.5M increase in budget

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By Amy Fauth
Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012, 1:01 a.m.

The Mt. Pleasant Area School Board heard some good news and some bad news on Monday night.

The good news, explained by Superintendent Terry Struble, is that the goals of the district's energy savings plan have been met and the savings should exceed the amount needed to pay for capital projects loan payments.

Struble presented utility cost comparisons that revealed a total savings of approximately $212,000 per year. That estimate included $80,000 in electricity. That figure could rise to $160,000, since it has not yet been a full year since the Energy Savings Agreement was completed with Honeywell in the winter/spring, or be lower due to the unseasonably warm winter experienced last year.

The savings also include $12,000 in gas costs at Ramsay Elementary, mostly due to the insulation work done there; and $40,000 in oil costs at Norvelt Elementary, which has switched to gas.

In addition to the monetary savings, Struble said the energy plan also represents a significant savings environmentally.

“The secondary portion, or gain of the project, is doing what is right environmentally,” Struble said. “Through the efforts made, estimates put our utility savings at over $200,000. That amount represents a lot less fossil fuel burned and pollutants emitted, while allowing us to take one step closer to a cleaner world.”

The bad news came when Struble presented an early look at next year's budget.

The district is facing five major increases — health care, payroll, pension, transportation contract and Central Westmoreland Career and Technology Center renovations — which will impact the budget by $1,106,000. Add that to the $431,750 deficit the district is expected to face with this year's budget, and the school board must consider a starting deficit of $1,537,750.

Struble cautioned board members that the figures are based on assumptions, like other budget items being held constant, local revenue sources continuing at the same level, and state and federal revenue streams continuing at the same rate.

While a tax increase will bring additional revenue, Struble said even if the district applied and received an exception from the state, it wouldn't provide the amount of revenue it needs to offset the coming increases.

Struble said board members will need to consider other potential revenue sources; review programs, staffing and expenditures to decide what is important to them and what can be altered for savings; review bond issues and refinancing options; keep up ongoing discussions with state and federal legislators; consider retirement incentives and any savings potential; and continue to refine the budget in coming months to isolate savings and move closer to a functional budget.

In other business, the board:

• Approved the substitute employee list, mentor teachers for this school year and requests by Michelle Steward and Jennifer Dudzinski for family medical leaves.

• Hired Tracey Surma and Melissa Lewandowski as part-time classroom assistants for $11 per hour, and Angela Palumbo as a temporary English teacher.

• Approved the resignation of Matt Gross as assistant (dual) swimming coach and Ashtin Primus as assistant junior high wrestling coach; hiring of supplemental employees, including Chris Firmstone, assistant baseball coach; Lee Smith, junior varsity baseball coach; Doug Walker, ninth-grade baseball coach; Donald Porter, ninth-grade boys basketball coach; Bill Barber, eighth-grade boys basketball coach; Maggie Depsey, assistant (dual) swimming coach; Gordon Diehl, assistant junior high wrestling coach; Luke Damico, assistant varsity boys basketball coach; and Ron Bell, junior varsity boys basketball coach.

• Approved supplemental volunteers Dan Myers, John Myers, Brandon Mikeska, John DiPasquale and Shawn Stewart for baseball, and Tyler Johnson and Jim Farrell for basketball.

• Approved Driver Education Theory Program at a cost of $40 per student.

• Accepted a $5,000 grant from the United Way to aid in career counseling at the junior / senior high.

Amy Fauth is a freelance writer.

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