Hope for pre-K at Keystone Central

MILL HALL – The embattled pre-kindergarten program at Keystone Central may have been given a ray of hope, according to a presentation at last night’s program planning meeting.

The presentation, given by the Child Development and Family Council of Centre County, Inc., featured Ann Walker, CDFC’s executive administrator, Nicole Pristash, program administrator, and Paula Thornbloom, a pre-K consultant.

While much of the presentation stressed the importance of the pre-K program, especially to the district’s rural or economically disadvantaged youth, it did include more information on the possible Pre-K Counts grant. This is a competitive, state-funded grant targeted at providing highly quality pre-K education to children between 3 and 4 years of age, from eligible families.

In order for a family to qualify, they must be at or below the 300 percent poverty level. For a family of two, this would mean an annual income of less than $49,380, for example.

The grant, if obtained, would provide close to 100 percent of the cost of the pre-K program.

However, it would require changes to Keystone’s existing program:

r 100 children would be required to fill the program, up from the district’s current 56 slots.

r This would result in five classrooms at 20 children apiece.

r As a result, the program would employ five teachers and five assistants.

These student population requirements are firm, and have resulted in the recommendation of the administration to axe the Renovo pre-K room, which would not be covered under the grant due to a lack of population.

Latest indications of interest from Renovo families have shown only two families from the Renovo area who have interest in a pre-K program, according to Keystone staff. Ten children are currently enrolled in pre-K at Renovo but will be graduating to kindergarten next year.

The grant is not guaranteed, though – and worse, the district won’t know if it receives the grant until around July 31… after the district will have already submitted its budget for the 2018-19 school year.

The district’s budget continues to flag. Latest numbers from a presentation by Dr. Alan J. Lonoconus, the substitute superintendent, show Keystone still at a deficit of $7.7 million: the projected budget expenses come to $80.5 million, while the revenue is only currently $72.8 million.

Lonoconus has a plan, though, which he has submitted to the school board for consideration – and a vote, in April.

His recommendations would have the district pull $2 million from its reserve funds, to help offset the disparity between revenue and expense for 2018-19.

In addition, he recommends the district increase taxes to the index, at 3.3 percent.

An average taxpayer in Clinton County would see an increase of $44; in Potter County, an increase of $144. However, due to the way millage equalization works out, the average taxpayer in Centre County would actually see a decrease of $47 in taxes.

Along with new state subsidies from Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget of $101,816 and a natural growth in tax revenues from real estate of $121,440, Lonoconus’s budget also includes an estimated $765,000 assumption that the district will receive the Pre-K Counts grant.

Furthermore, his plan sees an additional $350,000 reduction of operating budget cuts, $923,000 saved from additional positions which will be attritioned out, and $113,000 saved from the closure of the Renovo branch of the pre-K program, which would not be covered by the Pre-K Counts grant.

Finally, he urged the board to consider “Option 2” for the debt restructuring, which would result in an upfront savings of $1,729,834 for the 2018-19 budget.

“Normally, I wouldn’t recommend refinancing the bonds, but it might buy us some time, and that’s what’s needed right now,” he said.

“All of these decisions have education as the priority,” he continued, stating that his goal “is to get us into next year, without doing a whole lot to the district.”

His plan brings the deficit for the 2018-19 budget down to $917,109.

But it comes at a steep cost.

Broken down, his $923,000 saved from attritioning positions comes from the following:

r 21 teaching positions: 2 English, 2 art, 4 music, 5 special education, 4 elementary, 2 CTE, 1 library, and 1 pre-K (from Renovo).

r Two secretarial staff: the purchasing/athletics secretary in the business and athletics office, and the payroll/benefits secretary in the business office.

r Five administrative staff: the PIMS supervisor, property service supervisor, director of curriculum, assistant principal, and merging the administrative assistant position between business and human resources

r 10 support staff: 5 housekeepers, 3 building assistants, and 1 pre-K assistant (also from Renovo).

These items and more will be considered by the Keystone Central School Board members, who Lonoconus hopes will vote on them at the next regular meeting, on April 5.

Before then, though, the board will hold several other meetings, including a public hearing Monday at 6 p.m. in the Central Mountain High School Auditorium on possibly closing Dickey Elementary.

The numbers for closing the school were not part of Lonoconus’s suggestions.