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Greencastle-Antrim faces budget crunch

April 06, 2004|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - The teaching staff in the Greencastle-Antrim School District is aging and the number of teachers retiring at the end of each school year is increasing accordingly.

Teachers who reach 55 years of age and have 35 years of service can take early retirement.

"Many teachers are in my age group," said P. Duff Rearick, 53, superintendent of the 2,700-student district for the last nine years.

In recent years, four to five teachers usually retired at the end of the school year, Rearick said. This year, nine are planning to retire.

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The retirement of veteran teachers often means the district saves money by replacing them with new teachers fresh out of school at entry-level salaries. On average, the difference is about $20,000 per position, although sometimes a retiree has to be replaced with an experienced teacher to fill a specific position, Rearick said.

Another problem facing the district next year is an enrollment bubble. A bulge of about 100 more middle-school students than usual in grades six, seven and eight will enter high school in the next three years.

Rearick said the average number of students per grade is about 200 throughout the K-12 system.

The current year's eighth-grade class has 247 students, according to the latest enrollment report. There are 225 seventh-graders and 223 in the sixth grade, all of whom will head into the high school over the next three years.

Overall, the district's enrollment has been growing at a rate of 2 percent to 3 percent per year, the superintendent said.

Since the educational requirements for teachers in grades seven through 12 are the same, some positions can be shifted to the high school, he said.

Some teaching positions - those deemed unnecessary as the eighth-graders move up to high school - may not be replaced, Rearick said.

"We have to consider every position - from teachers to aides to administrator - to see if we can do as well without the position or if we absolutely have to have it," he said.

Overall, revenues are down and costs are going up in school districts across the state. One of the biggest culprits is the reduction in state funding to school districts, Rearick said.

In the mid-1990s, the state increased its support to the districts by 6 percent to 7 percent over the previous year, he said. Since the economic downturn in 2000, the state's annual increases to the districts have been 11/2 percent to 2 percent over the previous year.

"Revenues are decreasing and everything else is going up," Rearick said.

When the board begins its budget deliberations this spring for the 2004-05 school year, it also will have to consider an increase of 37 percent in the cost of employee health-insurance benefits. That represents about $613,000.

The current year saw an increase of about 25 percent in health insurance costs, he said. The teachers' contract, now in its second of five years, does not require teachers to pay into the coverage.

Gasoline and fuel prices also are on the rise, and the cost of natural gas, which heats the district's buildings, has significantly increased this year, Rearick said.

"All of our fixed costs continue to accelerate," he said.

The district's income from property taxes is up by about 4 percent this year, and revenue from income tax also is up, Rearick said.

Most of the recent real estate growth in the Greencastle-Antrim area stems from new residential construction. For every $1 that comes in from real estate taxes on homes, about $1.25 is spent on schools, roads, utilities and other municipal expenses.

Commercial development takes less from each dollar it puts in. There has been minimal commercial development in the district in the last two years, Rearick said.

The district has had two small mill rate increases in recent years. Asked if one is looming for the next fiscal year, Rearick said he didn't know.

"Ask me in May," he said.

By law, the school board has to adopt the new budget by June 30.

"We're trying to make it through to keep the fiscal impact at a minimal," Rearick said. "We're encouraging the state to put more money into education."

"When the economy was good, we were generous to the school districts," said state Rep. Pat Fleagle, R-Waynesboro. "But we had to cut back, so the locals have to cut back, too."

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