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Funding at heart of Norwin School District budget

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By Rossilynne Skena Culgan
Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

As Norwin School District officials work to balance a 2013-14 budget, they'll take into consideration a budget task force's list of recommendations that range from refinancing bond issues to lobbying state legislators.

The 11-member team, called the “Efficient and Effective District Review Task Force,” presented 10 suggestions to the school board this week. The board started the group in September, and members have met during the past several months to evaluate the district's budget.

“We're obviously in the budget season, and as we work through the next several weeks and months in preparing a tentative budget for presentation in May and then a final one for June, we're certainly going to take the recommendations seriously,” district Superintendent William Kerr said.

Last year, Norwin cut $2.2 million from the district budget; officials cut $2.8 million the year before.

The preliminary budget for next school year does not negatively impact the curriculum or students, Kerr said. Without more state funding, he said, that will be a difficult task for Norwin and Pennsylvania school districts.

“Trying to fill that void once again, we are obligated now to cut nearly $2 million again,” Kerr said. “We can't continue in that vein or we are going to begin to negatively affect education.”

The suggestions provide the board with “a framework and a direction,” Kerr said.

Members were tasked with examining the structure, staffing and management of all district operations. They analyzed the long-term sustainability of future local, state and federal revenues.

“The recommendations are global in nature,” Kerr said. “And I believe that the task force really provided the big picture, the big-ticket items that need to be addressed now and in the future.”

Among the task force's recommendations:

• Taxes: Target delinquent earned-income taxes with a more aggressive collection system.

• Cyber charter schools: Examine costs of cyber charter and charter schools; expand charter school alternatives.

• Student transportation: Examine transportation routes and the number of buses and other vehicles for seating capacity.

• Personnel: Review and evaluate all employee positions, including those vacated by retirement or resignation, to determine effectiveness, need and the essential use of resources.

• State funding: Lobby state legislators for funding so the district can meet normal increased costs of yearly operations.

John Wilson, district director of business affairs, led the group as chairman. The group included three school board members, along with staff representing the administration, the teachers union, the support professionals union, the custodial and maintenance staff union and the food service staff union.

Two business/community representatives, Ronald Giuliana and John Russo, also took part. Ex-officio members were Kerr and Thomas Wrobleski, director of human resources.

“When you're able to bring a different perspective to the table and everybody has an equal voice, that's pretty powerful,” Kerr said. “There's no substitute for people working together.”

Giuliana, a regional facilities manager for Verizon and former school board member, said the group looked at ways to save.

“We looked at a lot of different small things,” Giuliana said. “But as we talked as a group we said, ‘We don't want to nickel and dime the little stuff.'”

This weekend at the Westmoreland County Intermediate Unit, district officials will speak to state legislators about funding for education.

“The state has an obligation to help us meet what I call the normal increases of operation to sustain what we have,” Kerr said.

Rossilynne Skena is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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