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Public feedback sought on Plum schools' budget

| Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Plum School District's preliminary budget deficit has been trimmed to about $1.5 million.

School board members are looking for the public to bring them ideas on how to further pare down the deficit during a town hall meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. on March 18 in the auditorium of Oblock Junior High School, 440 Presque Isle Drive.

“We definitely have our work cut out for us,” board member Tom McGough said last week. “I believe if we have that synergy we can get tens of thousands of dollars (from the deficit), run the school district efficiently, have quality education and do what we are elected to do.”

Board President Sal Colella said the nearly $2.4 million deficit in the proposed spending plan for the 2014-15 school year was whittled down after the district received some updated information including a projected $430,000 savings from expected teacher retirements.

A tentative plan also calls for taking out $200,000 from the district's contingency fund and placing it back into the general fund.

The move would leave $50,000 in contingency.

Some board members last week said the fund needs to have more money for potential emergency spending situations.

Colella also said officials were looking to balance the spending plan with the use of $805,000 from the district's fund balance that is estimated to be $2.1 million at the end of June and a potential tax increase under the Act 1 index that would net the district about $669,000.

McGough, finance committee chairman, suggested officials conduct an audit to find ways to save money on energy bills.

“If the temperatures in the buildings are set at 1 degree warmer (in the summer months) and 1 degree cooler (in the winter months), you would be surprised how much money we could net from that,” McGough said.

McGough also suggested cutting building and department budgets by 5 percent.

Board member Loretta White suggested axing staff and administrative attendance at conferences.

Amid the discussion about energy conservation programs, eliminating staff attendance at conferences and further slashing building budgets, board member John St. Leger urged his colleagues to look at larger expenses.

“We have to cut salaries, wages and benefits,” St. Leger said. “We have to go to the people and say, ‘We need you to help us, give us money back.' We have to hold the line.”

The budget draft does not include any raises for the district's 264 teachers as officials last month began contract negotiations.

Salaries account for about one-third of the budget, business Manager Eugene Marraccini has said. In particular, teacher salaries total about $21 million in the current $56 million budget.

Plum Borough Education Association President Martha Freese did not respond to an email requesting a response to St. Leger's comments.

Board member Michelle Stepnick suggested administrative raises also be struck from the budget.

The board typically spends about $30,000 annually in administrative raises.

Superintendent Timothy Glasspool last year took a wage freeze for the final two years of his contract that expires in 2015. Glasspool's salary is $132,600.

The deadline for school boards to approve balanced budgets is June 30.

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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