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Plum could cut 24 jobs, close Regency elementary, end full-day kindergarten

Michael DiVittorio
| Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, 10:39 p.m.
Plum parent Leigh-Anne Weiss questions why the school board wants to cut programs and change the district's educational model, when prior boards and parental committees suggested they not do so. She attended a board meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.
Michael DiVittorio/Tribune-Review
Plum parent Leigh-Anne Weiss questions why the school board wants to cut programs and change the district's educational model, when prior boards and parental committees suggested they not do so. She attended a board meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.
Plum School District's board meeting room was packed Tuesday night, Jan. 9, 2018, as residents heard district officials discuss furloughing staff and cutting programs.
Michael DiVittorio/Tribune-Review
Plum School District's board meeting room was packed Tuesday night, Jan. 9, 2018, as residents heard district officials discuss furloughing staff and cutting programs.
Plum School District Business Manager John Zahorchak talks about finances and facilities at a committee meeting Tuesday night, Jan. 9, 2018, while flanked by school board member Scott Kolar and acting Superintendent Gail Yamnitzky.
Michael DiVittorio
Plum School District Business Manager John Zahorchak talks about finances and facilities at a committee meeting Tuesday night, Jan. 9, 2018, while flanked by school board member Scott Kolar and acting Superintendent Gail Yamnitzky.

Plum School District could cut 24 positions, reduce kindergarten to half-days and close an elementary school to offset a $5 million deficit and avoid a tax hike next year — and some parents are not happy.

More than 40 people packed a small room and some stood out in the hallway when the plan was discussed last week at a finance committee meeting of the school board.

Melanie Fleming has four children in the district, three at Holiday Park Elementary. She said class sizes would increase and educational options would decrease as a result of the cuts proposed in the spending plan to be considered by the full board this month.

“You're hurting our kids,” Fleming said. “None of you are thinking directly about our kids, and that's what you have been elected to do. I moved to this district because it was an up-and-coming school district. It is no longer that. The more cuts you make, the less it is an up-and-coming school district.”

Business Manager John Zahorchak said keeping all programs without raising taxes and closing Regency Elementary School would leave the 2018-19 budget with $68 million in expenses and $63 million in revenue.

One budget proposal the committee considered balanced the budget at $66 million through tax increases, closing Regency, five retirements and 19 furloughs. That proposal would also make Pivik and Center elementaries kindergarten through fourth-grade and Holiday Park would be for fifth- and sixth-graders. All of the elementary schools are now K-6.

The plan that emerged from the finance committee for board consideration includes reconfiguring grades in the elementaries, staff cuts and reducing kindergarten to part-time. It balances the budget without a tax increase.

Board President Steve Schlauch, who proposed the plan, called the budget a work in progress.

Parent Leigh-Anne Weiss criticized the plan to change the grades in the elementary schools.

“It makes no sense to change that now just to try and make everything work for the dollar signs and the challenges that we're facing now,” she said.

She was at the meeting with her daughter, Caitlin, who is in fifth grade at Regency at the old Holiday Park school. Closing that school would save the district $1.5 million annually, according to officials.

Acting Superintendent Gail Yamnitzky said during the meeting the district has 1,966 elementary students and capacity for 1,900 if Regency is closed.

“We can't fit all of the children into those three buildings by doing nothing,” Yamnitzky said.

She said the district may have to reuse all the art, music, libraries and other specialty rooms as classrooms.

The board in November approved a Center Elementary expansion project to create six new classrooms, but that was nixed a week after the new school board was sworn in in December.

The Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials has suggested raising taxes, closing Regency and looking at reducing staffing.

Among the 24 positions proposed to be cut under the finance committee's plan include six foreign language, one art, one math, one English and four special education teachers, a dean of students, three administrators, a guidance counselor and librarian. The plan also budgets for eight retirements.

The spending plan would cut kindergarten to part-time and use $2 million of borrowed money that is in reserves to balance the budget.

Former board member Michele Gallagher advocated maintaining full-day kindergarten, which her three children all attended.

“If you take away that program from these students, it is going backwards not forward,” she said.

The board plans to adopt a preliminary budget by Jan. 25 so it can petition the state to allow the district to raise taxes beyond the Act 1 index — a formula for capping tax hikes. Plum could apply for an exemption to raise taxes for pension or special education costs. Zahorchak said that is necessary so the board has the option of raising taxes as it works to adjust the budget before its final adoption in June.

Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2367 or mdivittorio@tribweb.com.

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