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It’s official: no new EASD tax
By: GARY P. KLINGER Review Correspondent, Staff Writer
With congratulations flowing and a unanimous vote, Ephrata Area School District School Board members passes the zero-increase budget they had hoped for since the beginning of the year.
This will be the first such budget in recent memory, meaning that tax payers will not see an increase in their property taxes for school year 2011-12.
Council President Tim Stayer was the first to offer his congratulations to the board and school administration for passing the budget.
"Even though we will take in over $1M less in state funding, we will only need to pull $861,441 from reserve," said Stayer. "Thanks to the hard work of the district administration and staff for making this possible."
The new budget is the first passed during Governor Tom Corbet’s initial term in office. Word came recently that a budget could be on the Governor’s desk by the end of this week, a full two weeks ahead of schedule. Nonetheless, until a budget is actually passed, the final dollar amount contributed by the state will remain somewhat unknown. As it now stands, the current state budget would appropriate $8,542,039 in basic education funding and another $1,024,040.62 in property tax relief.
Yet even with final state numbers unsettled, those funds only account for a small part of the overall planned expenditures of $54,642,257. The approved budget lists $53,780,816 in total revenue which creates a shortfall of $861,441, to be covered through a transfer from general fund reserves.
Board member Bob Miller likewise congratulated district officials for having the foresight years ago to begin taking measures anticipating the gathering budgetary storm clouds.
"If you look at the media there are a lot of districts really scrambling, not sure what to do," noted Miller. "Crises is perhaps too strong a word but it is a difficult situation we are all facing. Thanks to the forward-thinking of this board and administration five or six years ago it was recognized that a shift was coming and they adjusted."
Miller said that through aggressive cost cutting and operational savings, EASD was perhaps better prepared for the times which are upon us.
"It is almost anti-climatic to pass a zero budget," quipped Miller, "however I am pleased that at the same time we are not panicked about the future. You should be proud of that accomplishment."
Board member Glen Martin also weighed in on the budget.
"I want to say a big thank you to the staff for crunching numbers so we could come in where we are right now," he said. "Some might ask why not a little bit of an increase; others are saying thank you for no increase. Our position right now is because we had some foresight, but we cannot rest on this. We must continue to look ahead for things coming down the line."
"I’m very pleased with this budget," noted District Superintendent Dr. Gerald Rosati. "We have been very aggressive in not adding positions, reducing staff through attrition and continuously cutting costs. It has been a challenge and we are not done. But on a night like this I am very pleased."
In a statement released Tuesday, Rosati expounded on his thoughts regarding the budget.
"For several years, the Ephrata Area School Board and administration have been preparing for escalating costs in several areas, such as utilities, health care and retirement. Our board had the foresight to designate funds for some of the increases. Several cost-cutting initiatives have been put in place in anticipation of increased costs. Governor Corbett’s proposed 2011-2012 budget, along with the tough economy, have reinforced the importance of the preparations the district made in anticipation of a tight budget.
"District staff remain committed to providing a quality education and exercising fiscal responsibility. They have worked effectively and efficiently with less. For several years staffing has been reduced through attrition, including retirements. Workloads have been redistributed.
"We hoped, and it has worked out, to hold the line on taxes this year. In this tough economy, we wanted to lessen the burden on the property owner. They have been supportive for several years of tax increases. We anticipate that budgets in the next several years will also to be difficult due to decreased dollars from the state and a down economy. Holding the line on a tax increase will be difficult in years to come."
Cost cutting initiatives:
? Staffing has been reduced through attrition, including retirements, and hours have been reduced. Workloads have been redistributed.
? Timers and thermostats were installed on heating, ventilation and air-conditioning units.
? Software is being utilized to monitor daily electric usage to pinpoint high usage.
? Lighting was retrofitted with more energy efficient bulbs and motion sensors.
? The high school boiler was converted to natural gas.
? Electric for Akron and Clay elementary schools is being collectively purchased (all other district buildings are in the Ephrata Borough grid and ineligible for collective purchasing).
? Staff members are being asked to turn off their computers overnight.
So enthusiastic was the board to pass this budget that it actually passed it twice. A roll call was accidentally taken after comments, but prior to a motion being raised and seconded. Regardless, even on the second vote the outcome was the same — unanimous.
But not everyone in the school district was in agreement with the idea of not raising taxes.
"What a difference a year makes," stated regular school board meeting attendee Larry Hummer. "I understand but don’t’ quite agree with no tax increase."
Hummer questioned school board members on the possibility that some taxpayers might want to voluntarily contribute to the school district as if there had been a tax increase. Hummer’s intention was in making sure the district continues to have the funds necessary to offer the highest quality education possible. He added afterward that without a tax increase, he wanted to be sure those who wanted to could still contribute extra as if there had been one.
Rosati said that such contributions would be possible and those making such contributions could even designate where their funds would be used.
"If someone would want to contribute additional funds, that person could earmark that money for a certain program, work through the business manager and make your own recommendation for our reading programs, etc.," said Rosati. "Another avenue would be to put it into the Ephrata Area Education Foundation. EAEF provides money for programs that the school district could not otherwise afford. It provides funding above and beyond what we can afford for the classroom. There are areas where such contributions would truly, truly be appreciated and accepted."
In other school board business, members voted unanimously to close the Washington Education Center (WEC) as a second high school with grades 9-12, effective June 30. WEC students will be enrolled in Ephrata Area High School with grades 9-12. This is being done to meet PDE reporting standards only. It was stressed that this move does not in any way close the building. The only thing that will change is how those students in the WEC are reported to the state.
Rosati explained that changes made last year with regard to state alternative education programs meant that the district would need to make reporting changes in order to meet the new requirements. Going forward, the building would continue to operate as it had in the past, but would now operate under the umbrella of the Ephrata Area High School, rather than being considered a separate entity. He added that prior to last year’s changes other school districts would send student to WEC. That is no longer the practice. More EASD, page A6