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Plum School District tackles projected $4.3 million deficit

| Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, 1:12 p.m.

Plum School Board members are eyeing all options, including a tax increase, to reduce a nearly $4.3 million deficit projected in the current draft of the 2013-14 district budget.

“The deficit is so much right now that we are keeping everything on the table,” board member Kevin Dowdell said last weekend.

Plum School District business Manager Eugene Marraccini told board members during a finance committee meeting Feb. 19 that projected expenditures of $59.8 million outpace expected revenue of $55.5 million.

Marraccini said salaries and wages, a fixed cost, account for $29 million or about half of the expenditures in the projected spending plan.

The deficit in the current budget was $3 million a year ago.

After making cuts, board members decided to use $1.6 million from the district's reserve fund to balance the budget.

The current millage is 22.2. A mill generates about $1.2 million.

The numbers are preliminary, Marraccini said.

The school board typically votes on a budget during its June meeting to submit a balanced spending plan to the state by July 1.

Marraccini said one of the largest expenditure hikes is the district's payment to the Public School Employees' Retirement System from $3.5 million in the current budget to $4.9 million in the 2013-14 spending plan.

Health benefits, special-education and technology costs also are expected to rise.

Dowdell, finance committee chairman, said he first plans to direct the administration to look at savings that could be realized by eliminating programs the district is not required to offer.

Dowdell cited as examples art and music, particularly at the high-school level as well as a foreign language.

Dowdell said the district currently offers French and Spanish.

He said one foreign language course is required. The district eliminated German a couple of years ago.

Kindergarten also is not a mandatory program, Dowdell said.

“Kindergarten is last on the list (of programs to consider cutting),” Dowdell said.

Transportation is another area of discussion, Dowdell said.

The district and its transportation workers have been unable to agree on a new contract.

The sticking point is wages, according to Donna Meanor, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1595.

The 61 bus drivers, mechanics and bus aides are working under the terms of a five-year contract that expired July 31, 2012.

Dowdell said negotiations are continuing. He added the school board also continues to explore the possibility of hiring a private company to handle the district's transportation.

Dowdell said the board also needs to determine how many teachers will be hired to replace 11 who are retiring at the end of the school year.

Marraccini said savings should be realized given the fact that the retiring teachers are paid “in the high $90,000s to $100,000.”

New teachers would be paid about $50,000, Marraccini said.

The district currently has 274 teachers, Superintendent Timothy Glasspool said.

“We will replace some, and look at seeing if we can move teachers around,” Dowdell said.

Dowdell also wants to speak with the Plum Borough Education Association, or PBEA, the group that represents the district's teachers, about reducing salary increases and paying more for health benefits.

PBEA President Martha Freese said the group is interested in working with district officials and the board to cut costs.

“The Plum Borough Education Association has been looking for ways to help the school district balance the budget,” Freese said. “We are active participants in ongoing meetings where we are discussing and sharing cost-saving measures. We will continue to work with the school board for the betterment of the community of Plum.”

“It's a no-win scenario at this point,” Dowdell said. “If we increase taxes or cut programs, people will not be happy either way. We want to minimize the number of cuts as much as possible.”

Board member Joe Tommarello immediately wants to get to work to balance the spending plan.

He and other board members are expected to send their ideas to Superintendent Timothy Glasspool.

“We will look at all options on the table to find ways to balance our budget by June,” Tommarello said.

“However, I ask all citizens, students and employees to come together, find solutions and work together towards accomplishing our goal. Cuts, hikes and decisions may be made that will upset people, but it must be done in order to be fiscally responsible.”

The next finance committee meeting is scheduled for March 19 at 6 p.m. in the board room at the high school, 900 Elicker Road.

Karen Zapf is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8753 or

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