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Plum School Board again taps reserve fund to balance budget

| Tuesday, July 2, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

With increased costs anticipated next year, Plum School Board member Kevin Dowdell is worried the district won't have enough money in reserve to balance the budget.

“It's a big concern,” Dowdell said last Friday, three days after the board voted to draw $950,422 from the district's reserve fund to help balance the 2013-14 Plum School District budget.

The move potentially could leave about $1.1 million in the fund at the end of the 2013-14 school year, according to business manager Eugene Marraccini.

The exact amount needed to balance the spending plan won't be known until various factors are determined including how much state funding the district will receive and other costs.

The board during the June 25 meeting voted to approve a $56 million budget for the 2013-14 school year that includes laying off three teachers and a guidance counselor.

The vote on the budget was 6-3 with members Tom McGough, Shane McMasters and Loretta White dissenting.

The spending plan projects revenue of $55,863,571 and expenditures of $56,813,993. The board also voted to reduce the millage from 22.2 to 18.758.

The spending plan also includes the elimination of the family and consumer sciences program at the high school. Three teachers from the program are set to be laid off. Also, a tax increase is expected to raise $460,068 in revenue.

The board pulled back from approving 21 staff cuts and the elimination of a host of electives.

McMasters said he couldn't support taking nearly $1 million from the district's reserve fund to balance the budget.

“It is irresponsible,” McMasters said. “It means next year there will be a referendum for a large tax increase. It likely won't pass. There will be budget cuts, teacher furloughs and program cuts. Do I want to see massive cuts, no. But it may be the answer.”

McGough and White said they didn't support cutting the family and consumer sciences program and the tax increase.

Board members had discussions with the Plum Borough Education Association, the union representing the district's nearly 270 teachers, about concessions.

The union had agreed to about $500,000 in concessions, in part by teacher salary reductions for the 2013-14 school year, Dowdell has said.

Talks broke down when the board decided against a one-year contract extension through June 30, 2015. The existing contract expires on June 30, 2014.

Board members said a one-year contract extension would have cost the district an additional $900,000 in salaries for the 2014-15 school year. The PBEA contends the contract extension would have resulted in an additional $727,758 in salaries.

Dowdell anticipates increased costs going into the 2014-15 school year including the district's payment to the Public School Employees' Retirement System, health benefits and utilities.

Dowdell said he worries that using the remaining fund balance and pay freezes “across the board” might still not be enough to balance next year's budget.

Dowdell said teacher salaries need to be brought into line “with the rest of us.”

Dowdell said the average salary for a Plum teacher is about $78,000.

The starting salary is about $47,500.

He also said about 51 of the nearly 270 teachers or about 20 percent will receive between $10,000 and $12,000 in raises this school year. And about 76 teachers will be making salaries of more than $100,000.

Comparatively, the median household income in Plum is $66,680, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“The cost (of salaries) keeps outpacing us,” Dowdell said. “We can't afford it anymore.”

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