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Ligonier Valley School District's tentative budget holds line on taxes

| Thursday, April 11, 2013, 11:29 a.m.

Business manager Don Irwin painted a much rosier picture of Ligonier Valley School District's finances Monday night than the bleak one that has framed budget discussions in prior years.

District residents should see no increase in school district taxes next year, and likely the year after, Irwin said.

“I'm cautiously optimistic about the next two years,” he said. “We're within striking distance to work without our means for the next two years, without touching the reserve.”

Conversely, Irwin said he's “cautiously pessimistic” about his financial projections for the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years.

“When the expenditures exceed expected revenue by $600,00 or $800,000, that's when I start to be come a little concerned, but we have three years to get to that point, and I believe we can work through it,” Irwin said.

On Monday, school directors approved the 2013-14 tentative budget, which holds taxes at 75 mills.

That means the average district taxpayer — those with properties with an assessed value of about $16,700 — will owe about $1,250 annually in school taxes. One mill brings in about $166,000 to the district.

The budget totals $26.5 million and includes a $484,000 increase in expenses from the 2012-13 budget, according to Irwin.

No furloughs are planned, but the district will not replace two teaching positions resulting from resignations occurring this year.

The tentative budget — approved by school directors unanimously — will be available for public inspection at the district's administration building for 30 days. The school board will likely pass the final budget at its May 13 meeting.

Irwin said some numbers in the budget could change in the next 30 days, as the state budget continues to adapt.

Although the budget doesn't dip in to the district's $2.5 million in savings, nothing will be added to that reserve account, Irwin said.

“There's no planned savings, no. But this budget includes substantial investments into the district's infrastructure — with the down payment on the new roof at Laurel Valley Elementary School — and substantial investments into the education programs — such as the $150,000 allocated into the high school's new iPad initiative,” Irwin said.

The iPad project, also approved by school directors Monday, will put iPads into the hands of every high-schooler in the fall.

“We're trying to prepare students for jobs that don't even exist yet,” Ligonier Valley High School principal Tim Cantor said. “The learning needs and styles of our students need to correlate to their relationship with technology.”

The devices will come loaded with a variety of education-based applications that teachers will incorporate into their lessons. Students will not need Internet-access to use the programs, something Cantor called “anytime, anywhere learning.”

In the spring, the district will likely replace the purchase of traditional textbooks with digital textbooks for use on the iPads, superintendent Chris Oldham said.

“The type of engagement for students and the type of learning support these iBooks offer is far beyond anything we can do now with a textbook,” she said.

The textbooks include animation, 360-degree models that can be manipulated and the ability to highlight and make notes digitally.

The 2013-14 budget offers $150,000 toward the program, which is enough to cover the annual cost of leasing the 560 iPads for students. The lease would be contracted for three years, at which time the district would be able to buy the iPads for $1 each.

Oldham said she hopes grant funding will enable the district to purchase the devices, instead of lease them.

At $590 each, the district would need about $180,000 in grants to purchase the iPads.

School director Jack McDowell said as a retired teacher he's impressed with how the iPads will improve learning and teaching.

Jewels Phraner is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-1218 or