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Ulmer: Cyber charter schools are cause of $880K deficit

JERSEY SHORE — Rising costs for budget items that the school board has no control over were the main drivers of an $880,000 budget deficit that the Jersey Shore Area School District is facing in the next fiscal year.

“You are spending as a district $15 million in six years to something you have no control over,” said District Superintendent Brian Ulmer as he shared the cost of cyber charter schools over the past six years.

“The state tells you what you’re giving those cyber and charter costs,” he added.

In his presentation to the board, Ulmer said that although enrollment in cyber and charter schools increased by 117 percent, the actual tuition costs have gone up 250 percent.

“Which means that they’re getting more and more money for every kid that goes,” he said.

Ulmer noted that if the governor’s current plan to put a cap on cyber charter school costs were enacted the district could immediately realize approximately $300,000 in savings.

Along with charter school tuition, special education and pension costs qualify as items that the board has no control over.

“So what you’re subjected to is you’re trying to manage all the other costs in the district, where we’re accounting for everything else that we’re not able to spend because we’re spending money here,” Ulmer said.

“So the real message is if we took that $700,000 jump of cyber charter out of our budget increase, you would have a balanced budget sitting in front of you. You would be $100,000 off,” he said.

“We’ve managed every other cost to the point where it’s those unmanageable costs what you’re struggling with,” had added.

Following a lengthy discussion, the board decided by a 6-3 vote to not raise the tax rates, but to rebalance the tax rates for the two counties in the district which will result in an increase of less than $1 per $100,000 of a property’s assessed value for Clinton County and a decrease of about $6.75 per $100,000 of a property’s assessed value for property owners in Lycoming County.

The board also voted to transfer $325,000 of the unassigned fund balance to capital project. The budget deficit will also be covered by the unassigned fund balance.

Board members opposed were: David Becker, Craig Allen and Michelle Stemler. Voting in favor were: Patrice Doebler, Harry Brungard, Wayne Kinley, Nancy Petrosky, Angela Grant and Mary Thomas.

Other finance items approved by the board were: the IDEA agreement with BLaST Intermediate Unit #17 for the upcoming school year. The estimated funds for the district total $405,059; Lycoming and Clinton County agreements with Infocon to print and mail the real estate tax bills and provide tax processing services for 2021; and the CTE classroom windows and door retrofit project at a cost of $22,600.

The board also approved and MOU with BLaST IU 17 for curriculum and professional learning services for the next fiscal year.

Under personnel, the board approved: Savannah Green as 2021 spring band front advisor at a stipend of $1,178; Judith Horn as an aide for Susquehanna Transit; and Sabrina Ferland as a fulltime learning support paraprofessional at a salary of $17,359.

McCormick Law firm was approved as the district solicitor for 2021-22 at a cost of $150 per hour for professional services, $75 per hour for paralegal service, $375 per scheduled board meeting plus mileage costs at the IRS rate and reimbursement for all out of pocket costs incurred on behalf of the district.

The next meeting of the board will be at 7 p.m. at the district board room, 175 A & P Drive.

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