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Burrell School Board will seek ways to trim $430,000 from budget for 2014-15

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Coming up

Who: Burrell School Board

What: Regular meeting, preliminary approval of 2014-15 budget

When: 7:30 p.m. May 20

Where: High school board room, Puckety Church Road, Lower Burrell

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Saturday, April 26, 2014, 1:31 a.m.

When Burrell School Board members consider a preliminary 2014-15 budget next month, they will be looking at a $430,000 deficit. Maybe.

As presented by Business Manager Jennifer Callahan, the proposed $27.9 million spending plan on paper fell short of revenue.

However, Callahan said there are variables that could cut away at the deficit — and a possible property tax increase.

She is recommending the board pull $100,000 from a pool of money previous boards committed to softening the expected blow of sharply rising retirement contributions.

School districts next year will be asked to contribute an amount equivalent to 21.4 percent of wages to employee pensions, up from 16.9 percent this year. For Burrell, that will be an additional $600,000, half of which is reimbursed by the state.

The rate will continue to increase to more than 30 percent by the 2018-19 school year before leveling off, Callahan said.

Callahan said the district has nearly $2 million socked away specifically to deal with those pension increases, and she's recommending they start tapping that fund next year.

Aside from retirement costs, Callahan said employee salaries account for the other major factor contributing to cost increases next year. She estimated salary costs will climb by $340,000, or almost 3 percent.

Callahan said the retirements of three employees, two teachers and a clerical worker, will result in some savings, especially because the clerical worker will not be replaced.

Superintendent Shannon Wagner said the teaching spots will be filled, though not necessarily in the same department in which the retirements occurred. Rather than replacing a high school physical education teacher, she recommends hiring a science teacher; a middle school home economics teaching position will be moved to the high school.

Overall, the district is projected to spend about $910,000, or about 3.4 percent, more than the current year.

Callahan said the district can raise property taxes by a maximum of 2.4 mills, or about 2.8 percent. The current millage rate is 87.2 mills; one mill in taxes generates about $150,000 for the district.

Callahan has not made a recommendation to raise taxes. She is awaiting better estimates for special education, transportation and insurance costs for next year.

The district also is waiting to learn more about $250,000 in state Ready to Learn grant money that potentially could further reduce the gap.

The budget proposes to use $800,000 from reserve funds to cover technology upgrades, curriculum purchases, development of online courses and a transfer to the capital reserve fund.

The district would have about $2 million remaining in its reserve funds by June 2015, which is about 7 percent of operating expenses and is in line with recommended accounting practices.

Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or

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