Plum school officials discuss program cuts to trim down deficit

| Wednesday, April 9, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Plum School Board members are eyeing a host of options, including program cuts, to eliminate the estimated nearly $1 million deficit in the latest draft of the 2014-15 budget.

“I think program cuts should always be an option,” board member Richard Zucco said during a finance committee meeting last week.

The district spent an estimated $4.8 million in the 2012-13 school year in salaries and benefits for positions in programs that are not required for students to graduate, according to a list Superintendent Timothy Glasspool provided after the meeting.

The programs range from kindergarten to foreign languages to music and athletic programs.

The board last year advertised a 2013-14 budget that included the elimination of 21 positions.

Members ultimately voted to eliminate the family and consumer sciences program at the high school, which resulted in three teacher layoffs.

Discussion of the potential for program cuts did not sit well with all board members.

“I would rather have a tax increase personally than program cuts,” board member Michele Gallagher said.

Before the discussion, Glasspool presented a list of budget cuts that would decrease the projected deficit from $1.6 million to $921,000.

Glasspool said state funding remains in question.

The superintendent said $221,738 in proposed state Accountability Block Grant money has been included in the budget.

The district has not budgeted a proposed $617,285 in Student Focused Funding Supplement money because the amount is not definite, Glasspool said.

Board member Tom McGough proposed using a combination of sources to eliminate the deficit.

McGough said the options are using more than the proposed $500,000 from the district's reserves; eliminating the $73,000 cost of Kelly Educational Services that secures substitute teachers and other district staff; and taking money from a fund for capital improvements.

The board two years ago voted to place $2.5 million from reserves into that fund, sometimes called the “postwar fund.”

“I don't want to drain the postwar fund,” board member Michelle Stepnick said.

“I am just thinking, ‘Is there something we can do to help pay the interest on Pivik while we wait for (state reimbursement) money?' ”

Since 2012, there has been a delay on the distribution of construction reimbursements.

Plum officials said the state owes them $500,000 for the new Pivik Elementary School.

Also, the district could get $795,000 from raising the property tax rate 0.54 of a mill, the state-allowed maximum.

Board member Kevin Dowdell said the board needs to think about the potential costs associated with a new teacher contract.

The contract expires Aug. 31, and negotiations are under way.

Simply having teachers move up the salary schedule each of the next three years would cost the district $2 million.

“It would wipe out the fund balance,” Dowdell said.

Glasspool said the fund balance is estimated to be at $1.7 million on June 30.

Dowdell said having to pay for each step to go up by 2 percent in each of the next three years would cost the district $3.8 million.

Board member Joe Tommarello suggested the teachers union accept concessions that would cut the deficit by $921,000.

Martha Freese, president of the Plum Borough Education Association did not respond to an email seeking comment.

The next finance committee meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on April 22 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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