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Furloughs may be in store for Indiana Area School District

| Saturday, April 21, 2012, 4:28 p.m.

The multi-purpose room of East Pike Elementary School was packed Monday night, as faculty, administrators, students, parents and citizens gathered to hear what the Indiana Area School Board had to say about cutting expenses.

At the Jan. 3 school board meeting, administrators were tasked with finding ways to slash $1.5 million in expenses in an effort to keep the district from falling into the red in the next several years.

Superintendent Deborah Clawson and Business Manager Dale Kirsch explained some of the proposed cuts, which could lead to employee furloughs in September.

"The list of items does achieve the $1.5 million goal, but it does require furloughs to reach that amount," said Clawson.

Five categories of potential reductions were presented to the board. Three totaling $1,502,000 were deemed feasible for implementation in the 2012-13 school year; a fourth included furloughs that are not permitted under current law; and the fifth included items that are not recommended for the 2012-13 school year.

The first category of reduction deals with personnel and includes cost-cutting measures that would not require involuntary furloughs. Among the suggestions were: not replacing some retirees, which could results in savings of $180,000; combining the curriculum and math coordinator positions ($125,000 savings); using the school psychologist only when mental health issues interfere with a student's school performance or for high-level disciplinary situations, and using other support services for all other psychologist duties ($80,000 savings); filling the junior high assistant principal position with a member of the teaching staff, who would not be replaced ($70,000 savings), and reducing the hours of the junior high assistant principal to 200 days a year ($10,000 savings).

Those combined reductions would save the district an estimated $465,000.

The second category of suggested reductions, which are not personnel-related, include: converting to a three-tier bus run, which would eliminate the cost of running six buses ($240,000 savings); reducing textbook expenditures to $160,000 ($57,000 savings); reducing building allocations by five percent ($32,000 savings); reducing extracurricular student activities ($25,000); eliminating field trips from the budget ($22,000), slashing staff development ($15,000); increasing the fees paid for summer music lessons, or eliminating them from the budget ($13,000); cutting maintenance and custodial overtime by $10,000; changing to an administrative work week of four 10-hour days in the summer ($8,000); the elimination of six pay phones in schools ($6,000); and increasing fees charged for use of district facilities ($5,000).

The items in that second category have the potential to save the district a total of $433,000.

The third category includes proposed cutting of district programs that would result in the furlough of teachers. According to Clawson, seven professional and two support positions could be deleted, but she declined to say which programs are being considered for the cut. This step could save the district $612,000.

Those first three categories total a little over the $1.5 million in targeted savings.

The fourth category of suggested reductions would require furloughs but are not currently permitted by law. That includes district-wide kindergarten enrollment and balancing of class sizes, which would cut out one faculty position based on this year's enrollment numbers, saving $65,000.

A reconfiguration of grade levels is also suggested under this category, with grades K-2 assigned to Eisenhower Elementary School and grades 3-5 attending Horace Mann. That would eliminate two positions for a savings of $130,000.

The fifth category includes options that are possible under current law but are not recommended for the upcoming school year. Those include: moving the fifth grade to the junior high and closing an elementary school (a savings of $846,000); moving the fifth grade to the junior high but retaining all four elementary schools ($130,000 savings); reverting back to half-day and some extended-day kindergarten classes ($195,000).

The category also calls for eliminating: contributions to parks and recreation and library organizations ($48,800 savings); crossing guards, for which Indiana Borough pays half ($41,000); field trips to Washington, D.C., Gettysburg and Lutherlyn ($35,000); and the afterschool math program ($30,000).

What else might help

Other eliminations suggested were: NWEA testing ($29,000); district funding for SAT prep ($10,000); and band transportation to away football games ($6,000).

"I just want it to be clear, these reductions are necessary, the $1.5 million, if we have no tax increase," said board member Diana Paccapaniccia. "I would support a little bit of both. We cannot strip away our identity as a school district by eliminating some of the items on this list. I'd like to be very careful, especially curriculum-wise, that we retain programs that make Indiana Area School District superior."

The process of reducing district expenses has not been made easier by the recent release of Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed state budget, said Kirsch. The elimination of an accountability block grant could set the district back by up to $160,000.

Board member Terry Ray asked what would happen should the school district eventually end up with a negative fund balance.

In the event that the school district would have consecutive years with a negative fund balance, the state could move in and take over, Kirsch said.

Bu, he added that he doesn't see that happening because the board has several options it can explore to keep its expenses in check.

Despite the large crowd, there were no comments from the public, and Board President Thomas Harley encouraged those in attendance to review the board's proposed budget cuts online on the district website.

"This has not been adopted by the board as where we're going, but it is on the table," Harley noted.

In business, the board voted to cut back the attendance of its solicitor at school board meetings, reducing the required attendance from two meetings per month to one. The move is expected to save the district $350 a month.

Upon consultation with the board president, the superintendent may request additional attendance if it's believed the solicitor's presence would be required for certain agenda items. The Andrews & Price law firm of Pittsburgh provides a solicitor at the Indiana Area School Board meetings.

Paccapaniccia cast the only dissenting vote, saying she felt this was not a direction the board should take right now.

"Since the new board has been seated, the solicitor has provided invaluable information at each board meeting," she said.

She said she wouldn't object to the cutback in the future, but she said she felt having the solicitor attend all meetings is vital at this time.

In other business, the board:

• Sent a revised version of its student meal charging guidelines to the policy review committee. The revised guidelines are the direct result of a recent incident where a junior high student was refused a meal because too much money was owed on the student's lunch card;

• Approved tenure for senior high math instructor Traci Sexton;

• Accepted, with regret, the resignation due to retirement of Rita Ott, a learning support teacher at Ben Franklin, who has worked for 12 years in the district;

• Terminated the employment of Deborah Cochran, food service worker, due to job abandonment, and employed Christine Hampton as a food service worker at the junior high, at an hourly rate of $7.50;

• Employed Lisa Henry as an afterschool math instructor for grades 3-6, with 10 sessions per semester, one afternoon per week;

• Approved four conference requests for school board member Robert Gongaware, senior high social studies teacher Michael Tshudy, Eisenhower art teacher Jennifer Rinkevich and senior high social studies teacher Peggy Garbrick;

• Adopted a Response and Corrective Action Plan, in connection with the Auditor General's audit report for fiscal years ended June 30, 2007 and 2008;

• Approved adoption of two new planned courses, "Pathways to Independence," at no cost to the district, and a new course on American presidents based on a series of A&E Biography DVDs, at a cost of $400;

• Approved an agreement between the school district and Dr. David Allen for psychological services

• Heard reports from it standing committees, and completed a second reading for several changes to board policy that would combine several of the committees.

The board will next hold a special meeting at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 27.

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