By Monica Pryts/Staff Writer
SLIPPERY ROCK —
Slippery Rock school board members have adopted a preliminary budget despite a few unknowns about how the state's spending plan will factor into the final version.
"At this point there's not a lot of answers that are easy to come by," Paul Cessar, board secretary and the district's business manager, said at Monday's meeting.
The board unanimously adopted the budget of $29,350,695 for the 2013-14 school year and authorized Cessar to apply for referendum exceptions with the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
Board member Dr. Mark Mraz was absent.
If the state approves the application, the board can pass a resolution to raise real estate taxes above the district's Act 1 index of 2.3 mills.
Act 1 is a state program that dictates how much a district can raise property taxes without needing voter approval or permission from the state.
The state budget that Gov. Tom Corbett introduced last week is proposing some adjustments that might be hard to resolve in the coming months, like making changes to pension plans for public school employees, Cessar said.
But the district's tentative budget doesn't reflect anything from the state's spending plan since nothing has been set in stone, he said, adding the district is keeping its options open by filing for the referendum.
"We're committing that we're going to apply for referendum exceptions," he said.
That doesn't mean the board will raise taxes, though, especially since they'll be waiting on the PDE to approve or deny the request.
Current property taxes are 89.15 mills.
The numbers are still flexible and changes can be made, and the board will rehash the preliminary budget again in May. A final budget must be approved by June 30.
The board is working on cutting down a deficit of about $846,000, which is related to increased costs for retirement expenses, special education services outside the district, cyber school services and contract obligations for the custodial, maintenance and transportation employees, Cessar has said.
No staff cuts are expected and in the meantime the board is also considering whether to close Har-Mer Elementary School in Harrisville or keep it open for the new school year.
The board held a public hearing Feb. 4, when about 25 parents urged them to keep Har-Mer open, despite declining enrollment.
Kenneth Speer, board member and chair of the Har-Mer committee, recapped a few things Monday, asking mostly about how class sizes would be affected if Har-Mer closes, sending those students to Moraine Elementary in Prospect and Area Elementary in Slippery Rock.
All three buildings house kindergarten through fifth grade; if Har-Mer closes, fifth grade classes at Moraine will average 27.7 students and Area Elementary, 26.7, Speer said of his concerns that's too many per class.
Those two buildings already have teacher aides and there's still time for discussion on class sizes, but it's best for grades four and five to have more students because they're with different teachers throughout the day, Superintendent Dr. Kathleen Nogay said of how younger kids usually have the same teacher all day.
If more students enroll, the board has to pay close attention to class size, Speer said.
Trends over the last 15 years show that's not likely to happen, Nogay said.
The soonest the board can vote on Har-Mer is May 4, which is 90 days after the public hearing.
Published Feb. 13, 2013, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.