School budget passes on 6-3 vote

RENOVO — The Keystone Central School Board last night approved a $77.1 million budget for next school year that is partially funded by a 3.4 percent property tax hike, but not before some failed attempts at significant cuts.

The vote was 6 to 3 for the budget and tax increase as presented.

The vote went as follows:

r Albert Jones: Yes. “Is it enough? Time will tell,” Jones stated, noting that, “This budget is a step in the right direction.”

r Wayne Koch: Yes. He framed his vote by calling to the community,: “Your opportunity to participate in the budget process will come in the near future, and it’s up to you to participate in that process and answer what you want from the district and what you’re willing to put in to get that.”

r Jeff Johnston: Yes. “We have made some difficult and substantial cuts,” Johnston said. “I know we need to do further cuts, and next year we have an opportunity.”

r Tom Shafer: Yes. Blaming Harrisburg, Shafer said, “Rather than arguing amongst ourselves, we should put a good bit of the blame down the river.”

r Gregory Strouse: Yes. “I feel as though we are cutting some necessities and retaining some wants.”

r Butch Knauff: A simple yes.

r Roger Elling: No, with the rationale that the current budget is irresponsible to taxpayers.

r Debbie Smith: No. On her vote, Smith said, “We’ve not cut enough, and what we have cut is harming students.”

r Charles Rosamilia: No. Said Rosamilia of the budget, “The fact is, this year’s budget, after cuts, is $500,000 more than last year’s budget. In two years, the bottom drops out.”

Before the final vote occurred, Rosamilia attempted to amend the budget as presented three times.

His first attempt was an effort to end the district’s one-year-old pre-school program, which would save almost $800,000 a year.

Knauff and Johnston reaffirmed that they believe that, even if the district can’t afford it currently, the value in the pre-K is just too high and there will be too much damage down the road.

Knauff said his opinion that pre-K is a preventative measure – like changing the oil in one’s car – offering that “you don’t necessarily have to do it, but you’re going to pay for it eventually.”

Rosamilia’s amendment was defeated 5-4, with Jones, Koch, Knauff, Shafer, and Johnston voting no, compared to Elling, Smith, Strouse, and Rosamilia voting yes.

Next, Rosamilia sought to terminate all school-provided cellphones at the end of their contract. Smith seconded it.

This raised concern about how support staff would remain in communication.

One immediate and present example was the question of how to turn off the air conditioner in the cafeteria at the meeting so that everyone could hear.

Several board members, along with district Business Manager Susan Blesh, warned that terminating cellphones may incur extra labor costs by trying to use personal cellphones per union rules.

On the subject, Jones said, “I get the principle of it, but there are numerous situations that are going to have negative impacts on operating costs.”

The question was asked how situations were handled before cellphones.

During those days, the district had people on call serving firewatch, actually in the buildings – but that is a huge labor cost as compared to the price of a cellphone contract, they said.

This motion to amend was defeated 7-2, with Rosamilia and Smith being the lone yes votes.

Rosamilia’s final attempt to make more budget cuts involved reducing the salaries of all administrators making more than $60,000 a year by 15 percent.

Smith once again seconded the motion.

While he did acknowledge the work the administrators do, Rosamilia rationalized that there have only been ghost cuts to administration so far, in a time of severe financial crisis when everyone should be sharing the pain.

This motion also failed 7-2, with Smith and Rosamilia standing as the yes votes, although Smith wished to abstain and was unable.

What the board did move to cut, as previously proposed, were the following:

r The electronics education program in the Career and Technology Center.

r The French language program in the district.

r The technology integration program in the district.

Also, the board voted to increase the athletic participation fee schedule from first sport: $50, second sport: $50, third or fourth sport: free to $75 per sport starting in the 2017-2018 school year.

The budget, meanwhile, increases the school property tax by 3.4 percent as levied in Clinton, Centre and Potter counties.

For properties with a taxable value of $93,300, a 3.4 percent hike will mean increases as follows: Clinton County, $30.79 more; Centre County, $122.22 more, and Potter County, $78.37 more.

That’s all estimated to raise $545,000 in additional tax revenue.

The rest of a projected $5.7 million deficit between revenues and expenses will be made up with reserve funds, giving the district a fund balance of $6 million at July 1.

Last night’s vote was preliminary approval; budget adoption is set for the board’s June 15 meeting at the Central Mountain High School library.

Also accepted last night, as previously reported, is Strouse’s resignation, effective June 16.