BY MICHAEL J. RUDOLF
Wyoming County Press Examiner
TUNKHANNOCK – The Tunkhannock Area School Board postponed voting on its 2010-2011 budget on Thursday, opting to wait until last night (Tuesday, June 29) to approve the spending plan.
Information from that meeting was not available at press time.
Although the board said on Thursday that it was looking at a three-mill tax increase, board member Mick Cronin stated Tuesday morning that the increase would likely be 2.7 mills.
“We’ve chosen to scale it back. We’ve listened to the concern of some of the taxpayers,” said Cronin, who chairs the board’s Budget & Finance Committee.
On Thursday, as at previous committee meetings, residents clamored for the board to keep the tax increase down.
“We’re very disappointed that the school is continuing with the proposed three-mill increase,” said Veto Barziloski of the Wyoming County Concerned Taxpayers Political Action Committee.
“Please don’t vote for three mills, but vote your conscience,” Barziloski added.
Cronin said Tuesday some last-minute number crunching enabled the board to roll back its increase. That included information presented by Business Manager P.J. O’Shea on Thursday that the district was recently able to refinance some bonds.
According to O’Shea, that means the district has about $168,000 more than it normally would have.
Cronin said there is still some uncertainty about the budget, because the state has not set its own spending plan for the coming fiscal year. Waiting for that information was the key reason the vote was postponed from last week, but by law the school district must have its budget finalized by the end of June.
On Thursday, Superintendent Michael Healey recommended the vote be delayed in hopes that the state and federal governments can resolve their own budget issues.
Healey explained that the state is waiting for an expected $850 million Medicaid allocation from the federal government. If that doesn’t come through, state funds available for allocations to school districts could fall short.
The board was scheduled to vote on three-mill tax increase, based on the recommendation of its Budget and Finance Committee. That committee met Tuesday night, June 22, and determined that a lesser tax increase of 2.39 mills would not suffice to meet the district’s expenses.
School officials said at last week’s work session that they were going with the lower amount because a meeting in February – when the three-mill raise was first voted on – was held in violation of district policy.
At that meeting, only four members were present, and board president Rob Parry participated by phone to create a quorum. District policy states that a majority must be physically present for a meeting to be held.
However, Healey noted that he consulted with district solicitor Frank Tunis, who said the meeting did not violate the state School Code. In addition, Healey said in the solicitor’s opinion, the district policy is merely a guideline, not a requirement.
Healey said school officials looked at a number of ways to cut district expenses. He pointed out that four elementary school teachers opted for an early retirement plan and are not scheduled to be replaced, cutting costs by about $200,000.
Those cuts will probably have an impact on class sizes, Healey admitted, but the numbers should still be manageable.
“Is this a good educational decision? I think it’s a good one knowing what we have. I think it’s a good one knowing what we don’t have,” Healey said, alluding to the yet-to-come state money.
In other business on Thursday, the board approved the hiring of people to extracurricular positions.
Ryan Zellner was named several positions, including: head marching band (fall), $3,548, head marching band (spring), $904, and head marching band (summer), $1,627; head concert band, $1,356; head jazz band, $565, and head auditorium technician (high school sound and lighting), $1,582.
Joshua Silver was named as assistant marching band director, $2,215; head chorus director, $2,260; and strings, $1,972.
Also, Vince McClain, head seventh and eighth grade baseball coach, $2,441; Amanda Golden, assistant junior high softball coach, $1,153; Kevin Kreinberg, assistant marching band director, $2,215; Sandra Zellner, marching band musical assistant, $2,418; and Jennifer Geary, marching band choreographer, $2,418.
The board accepted the retirements of Patricia Kowalek, high school reading teacher; Janet Shaw, middle school reading teacher; William Shaw, high school tech ed teacher; Harriette Bartron, substitute teacher and GED teacher, and Kristy M. Weidow, school psychologist. Also accepted was the resignation of Barbara Ryce, part-time custodian.