By Mary Spicer
The administration is recommending a 1.19-mill increase in the school property tax rate paid by Crawford County residents living in the Crawford Central School District, but exactly what decision the Crawford Central School Board will have made when the yeas and the nays are tallied Friday afternoon remains pretty much anyone’s guess.
One thing is certain, however: At least five board members must be on the same page. Pennsylvania’s School Code requires approval by a majority of each nine-member board, regardless of how many are present when the vote is taken.
Crawford Central School Board will meet Friday at noon in the district’s administration building, 11280 Mercer Pike, Vernon Township. According to Pennsylvania law, all of the state’s 500 school districts must have a budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 in place no later than June 30, which this year is on a Sunday.
If passed in its entirety, the 1.19-mill increase, the maximum allowed for the district by Pennsylvania Department of Education without voter referendum, represents a 2.4 percent increase over the current 49.62 mills. If approved, the new rate will increase to 50.81 mills.
With one mill equaling $1 for every $1,000 of a property’s assessed value, that means that the owner of a Crawford Central home with the median assessed value of $29,000 will see an increase of $34.51, boosting the structure’s total school property tax bill for 2013-14 to $1,473.49.
For each mill collected in school property taxes, the district receives approximately $485,000. However, even if the maximum increase is included, the district will be required to dip into its general fund balance to the tune of $162,451 to bring the $53.5 million budget into balance. That, according to Guy O’Neil, the district’s business manager, would reduce the fund balance by 3.8 percent, leaving the district with a fund balance of approximately $4.2 million, representing approximately 8 percent of the previous year’s expenditures.
“With the state not addressing the pension cost increase to the district and the flat funding for special increase, the small amount of an increase that we did get from the state doesn’t begin to cover the increases that we have to deal with,” school board President Jan VanTuil said Tuesday. “In addition to the pension costs, we have close to a 10-percent increase in health care costs.”
VanTuil noted that even though the district’s overall payroll increase was held relatively flat this year due to what she described as “retirements and/or pay freezes or other factors,” health care and pension increases still boosted the bottom line above the maximum increase allowed by the state.
“Clearly, the board and administration is working hard to control those employee costs, which is evident with the fact that we’ve had two years without contracts,” VanTuil said.
A delegation representing the district’s support staff, which has been negotiating with the district for the past 2 1/2 years, has been attending recent school board meetings to show support for their union negotiators and opposition to discussions around the negotiating table indicating the district is considering entering into a contract with an outside provider for support services.
The district’s teachers have also been working without a contract for the past two years.
The coming school year
Class size in Crawford Central will be maintained at the current 18 to 20 students per kindergarten classroom; 20 to 25 students in grades one through three and 25 to 30 in grades four, five and six.
“We’re within the guidelines — and have been, for the most part,” Superintendent Charlie Heller said Monday. “They are guidelines. We’d like to have smaller class sizes, but, realistically, we need to be able to accept what we have at this time.
“When it comes to personnel, we’re pretty status quo for the 2013-14 school year,” Heller said. The district was forced to make significant cuts in the number of classroom teachers and administrative staff — primarily during the 2010-11 school year, according to Heller, who noted that the district withstood funding pressures in 2011-12 and then made significant cuts in support staff in 2012-13. “That should enable us to move into 2013-14 without any reductions in staff,” Heller said. As a result, education in the district should look pretty much like last year — with “no reductions in programs and no increases in class size,” he said.
From a programming perspective, “Everything is in place — even athletics,” Heller said. “Our goal was to maintain and not compromise any programs.” In fact, he added, it looks as if administrators are going to be able to restore some areas where downsizing previously took place, such as instrumental music lessons. “I think we’ll be able to do more with instrumental lessons than we were able to do before,” Heller said.
Heller says the contracting out of the district’s technical services should result in a positive change.
“We’ll be able to operate at a more efficient cost,” he said. “The integration of technology in the classrooms and school buildings should grow.” The technology outsourcing, he added, “will free up some time to focus on things we should focus on: Students and instruction.”
Looking toward the future, with a new technology team guiding the district, administrators are looking at installing wireless service in the secondary buildings. “That will provide many more opportunities,” Heller explained, noting that at some point, the district may be looking at a “bring your own device” program.
“First, the wireless has to be in place — then a new policy adopted,” Heller said. “But we also have to make sure there’s security within our system to keep people off what they’re not supposed to be in. Once we’ve moved to that point, we’ll be able to advance at a much faster pace with regard to technology in the classroom.”
What to watch for next
Crawford Central School Board meets Friday at noon in the district’s Instructional Support Center, 11280 Mercer Pike, in Vernon Township, to approve the district’s 2013-14 budget. The meeting is open to the public.
Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.