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The Progress Home >> Thursday, February 14, 2013 - West Branch School District looks to close budgetary gap

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West Branch School District looks to close budgetary gap
Thursday, February 14, 2013
By Tyler Kolesar Staff Writer
ALLPORT - Talk of how to close a $1.5 million budgetary gap was the main topic of discussion at last night's West Branch budget meeting. Business Manager Jason McMillen started off with a bit of good information, saying the governor's proposed state budget will add approximately $400,000 to the district's revenue stream, thus making the deficit around $1.1 million. At the January school board meeting, the board passed the preliminary budget that includes a 10-mill increase. Since the highest increase allowed without going over the index is a 2.4-mill increase, the 10-mill increase would need to be passed by the public during the Primary Election Day on May 21.
McMillen said the 10-mill increase would be equal to 1 percent of the assessed value of a property. For instance, if a property is valued at $10,000, the tax increase would be at $100. McMillen said the average non-exempt assessed property value is $5,868.43, while the average homestead assessed property value is $11,356.17.
McMillen said obviously a tax increase alone won't solve the problems, and gave suggestions of things to do even with the 10-mill increase. These things included the single start time between the elementary and high school, and setting the heat to a certain temperature during the school year. Should taxpayers choose to shoot down the increase, McMillen said the two previous scenarios would be looked at, as well as probable furloughs/layoffs, program cuts, etc.
A paper was then passed out from the West Branch Education Association as to what teachers are willing to do to cut costs, as well as other ideas. These methods include sharing supplies, having parents and teachers purchase various supplies, solicit donations from the community, not renewing the Success For All reading, and other ideas that had been previously mentioned at budget meetings.
Opinions on the proposed 10-mill increase were also heard, as both sides made their points. Resident Pat Shive was against the increase, and doesn't think the public will pass it.
"Ten mills ain't going to fly," said Shive. "I'm going to tell you right now, it ain't going to fly. Because I'll spearhead it that it doesn't fly. The reality is the public school system has gotten out of hand, just like the federal government and the state government. You better start looking at cutting, and cutting good. It's going to get a hell of a lot worse than you can imagine. We are in deep trouble."
Shive said the people of the community are tired of paying the taxes. He said as a business owner himself, he's tired of the fact that the more successful he is, the more he gets "hammered" by taxes.
"You got to start looking at the reality," said Shive of the deficit. "You can't wish it away and you can't hope it away."
Resident Bonnie Fenush said she would be in favor of the 10-mill increase.
"I feel it's an investment in our kids," said Fenush. "I feel that if you invest in our children, they will prosper. The school has to do more. And they need more money to provide these kids with more opportunities."
Fenush said she's in favor of increasing technology and for teaming kids with employers to give them skills needed for the working world. She said her son would have probably been kicked out of the district had it not been for the staff at West Branch working closely with him.
When asked of what the actual numbers would be on saving various things, McMillen said for many of these he did not have specific numbers at that time.
However, board member Tim Kephart said he thought it was somewhere between $500,000 to $800,000 that they could realistically save with methods previously discussed. A same start time was estimated around $300,000 savings. McMillen also said about $100,000 could be saved by the district starting their own cyber school. Other ideas brought included a "pay to play" program, where students would have to pay to play athletics. High School Principal and Acting Superintendent J.R. Holenchik was not in favor of this. He said it doesn't make sense to vote down a tax increase and then try to get someone to pay $250 or so for their child to play athletics.
"Some people don't pay that much in taxes," said Holenchik. "But yet we're going to say pay to play for those who can afford it. Those who can't (afford it), what are they going to do?"
Holenchik said regardless of an increase or not, the money has to come from somewhere. And that money could be coming from the pockets of the same people who would turn down a tax increase, but just in a different form (such as buying for a fundraiser).
After a lengthy discussion on a myriad of topics, Kephart and President Joe Kovalcin asked McMillen to come back with actual numbers of what can be saved for the previously mentioned cost cutting items, to which McMillen said he would.
The next budget meeting will be held on March 13 at 7 p.m. in the high school library.

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