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Monessen eyes tax hike

| Thursday, June 2, 2011

MONESSEN — Faced with the possible loss of thousands of dollars in state aid, Monessen School District officials knew developing a new budget would be tough.

The tentative 2011-2012 budget calls for job eliminations, a real estate property tax increase and a number of cuts to after-school programs.

"It's been tough. No one wants to cut anything," Superintendent Dr. Cynthia Chelen said. "But, we did not make any cuts to educational programs, which were very important to keep intact."

Under the tentative spending plan, property owners will see a 1.5-mill increase in the real estate tax rate.

If the tentative budget is unchanged, the rate would increase from 65.20 mills to 66.70 mills in the 2011-12 year.

One mill in real estate tax generates $58,653.

Last year's budget did not require a tax hike.

Chelen said developing a new budget has been difficult because Monessen officials are waiting for the final state budget.

Gov. Tom Corbett has proposed deep cuts to public school systems.

Chelen said the district stands to lose about $335,000 in state aid - about $400 per student - based on Corbett's proposed budget.

In addition, the district will no longer receive federal stimulus money as it has the past two years.

Business Manager Linda Powell said district officials started with a $1.4 million deficit.

The tentative $3,269,730 spending plan is 13.7 percent less than last year, she said.

She said district officials were able to reduce the anticipated deficit to $366,000.

"We're using what little fund balance we have to balance the budget," Powell said. "(The state is) going back to 2008-2009 funding. It's as if 2010 and 2011 never happened."

Monessen will save more than $300,000 in benefits and salaries through teacher layoffs.

Chelen cited declining enrollment for staff reductions.

"We have lost over 250 students over the past six years," Chelen said.

Next year's enrollment is projected at 880 students. In the 2007-2008 school year, enrollment was 972. Seventy seniors are expected to graduate Friday.

State law allows school districts to furlough teachers only if there is a multi-year drop in student enrollment, a school consolidation or the alteration or elimination of educational programs.

Monessen plans to eliminate nine part-time classroom assistant positions.

Two jobs were cut through attrition as teachers Evie Matinsky and Alexis Fernandez will retire.

The district will furlough a business education teacher, a social studies teacher and a physical education/health teacher. All are high school positions.

A middle school social studies teacher will become a part-time high school social studies teacher. That teacher will continue to receive the same fringe benefits as full-time teachers. Chelen said the teacher had enough seniority to not lose his job.

Chelen said the contract with the Monessen Education Association allows teachers to become part time.

Teaching positions were eliminated based on seniority and area of certification.

Chelen said the district tentatively planned to cut two elementary teachers because of declining kindergarten enrollment.

"But enrollment picked up in the kindergarten this year, so those jobs won't be furloughed," she said.

Chelen said no classes or educational programs were cut. Full-day kindergarten will remain.

The following cuts are reflected in the tentative budget:

• Chelen said each teacher will be limited to $250 to $500 for supplies, based on the class.

• Chelen said the district will no longer feed the football team lunch and dinner during summer camp. Other sports teams will no longer receive lunch. Fall sports teams will not receive food during the season.

• The board cut after-school tutoring. Chelen said teachers have been receiving $30 an hour for the service.

• Alternative education services will remain, but the program will change. Chelen said the district has operated an after-school program from noon to 6 p.m. The district provided transportation and paid teachers $30 an hour. Under the revised program alternative education students will attend classes during school hours and teachers will rotate into their classrooms.

• The district eliminated a bus for after-school activities. Buses will no longer shuttle students home from detention, tutoring or club meetings.

• Chelen said her secretary, Andrea Macko, is retiring. Cynthia Gigliotti moved from classroom assistant to Macko's position. The move will save about $12,000 because Macko was a top-step level employee.

Chelen said no sports teams were cut, but district officials will study participation levels for middle school football.

"The decisions haven't been easy to make," Chelen said.

Chelen and Powell said they are upset that Corbett's proposed budget would slash reimbursements for charter and cyber school tuition.

Monessen's tuition rates, which are set by the state, are $8,418 for an elementary student and $9,817 for a secondary student.

The district is charged $10,800 for a regular education student enrolled in a charter school.

A special education student enrolled in charter school costs the district $21,000.

Because Corbett's plan calls for no reimbursements, Powell said she had to budget $250,000 for 24 charter and cyber students.

Chelen and Powell indicated the system is unfair to districts, and pointed out that charter schools don't have to meet state Adequate Yearly Progress standards.

The board will meet 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

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