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Electives could be restored in Plum School Board budget

| Wednesday, June 12, 2013, 7:03 p.m.

The Plum School Board has backed off its plan to cut 21 teaching positions to help balance the $55.2 million preliminary budget.

The board's decision during last week's budget workshop could restore a host of electives that board members recommended cutting last month.

School director Sal Colella, education committee co-chairman, said 17 positions that were slated to be eliminated have been placed back in the budget.

He said the committee also recommends adding two sixth-grade teachers.

Consideration is being given to filling a vacant elementary music teaching position and hiring an additional kindergarten teacher.

The positions at the high school that have been placed back in the budget are: three Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps instructors, three business-education teachers, two technical-education instructors, one librarian, one guidance counselor and the television-production teacher.

Two computer-instruction positions, two world-language positions and two technical-education positions have been restored at Oblock Junior High School.

“We have spent countless hours on this budget,” Colella said. “And next year we may be in the same (financial) position. It's not going to change.”

The preliminary budget, which originally showed a $1.5 million budget deficit, now calls for a tax increase that would raise an additional $460,068 in revenue. The millage, currently at 22.2, is expected to be set at the meeting 7 p.m. June 25, when the board is scheduled to consider a vote on the final budget.

Staff cuts and program eliminations would save $591,612. The budget also would be balanced by taking $448,300 from a reserve fund.

The most recent proposed cuts include: the Boyce Campus Middle College High School (BCMC); a guidance counselor and physical-education instructor; the family-and-consumer-science program at the high school; and several aides and a library/nurse administrative assistant at the high school. The elimination of the BCMC program is expected to save the district $234,913, according to district figures.

Colleen Prokopik, family-and-consumer-sciences teacher at the high school, told the board she doesn't understand the reason the program is being cut.

“The classes are packed, and they (the classes) have academic vigor,” Prokopik said.

Martha Freese, president of the Plum Borough Education Association (PBEA) advised the board to keep all programs in place.

Board member Kevin Dowdell said members met with PBEA officials to try to reach an agreement on concessions by the teachers and avoid program cuts.

Dowdell said the PBEA offered half a million dollars in concessions, in part by teacher salary reductions for the 2013-14 school year.

Dowdell said the talks broke down when the board decided against a one-year teacher contract extension through June 30, 2015. The existing contract expires June 30, 2014.

“We were uncomfortable (agreeing to a contract extension) due to the uncertainties with future payments to the Pennsylvania School Employees' Retirement System and health care legislation,” Dowdell said.

Colella said a one-year contract extension would have cost the district an additional $900,000 in salaries for the 2014-15 school year.

“Why would we spend $900,000 to get $500,000 (in savings from concessions)?” Colella asked. “The contract is so antiquated.”

The PBEA said the contract extension would have resulted in an additional $727,758 in salaries.

The next finance committee meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday at the high school.

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

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