Health-care costs fueling school district's budget woes

April 13, 2004|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - If property taxes go up in the Chambersburg Area School District in 2004-05 - as they almost certainly will - one of the driving factors will be health-care costs, Business Manager Rick Vensel said.

At Wednesday night's school board meeting, Vensel told the board that a large increase in health-care premiums can be expected.

On Thursday, Vensel said the increase will be 36 percent or more for health-care coverage. The district will see its premiums rise from about $5.3 million to more than $7.1 million, he estimated.

That increase of more than $1.8 million is the equivalent of more than 3 mills in real estate taxes. One mill generates about $525,000 in local tax revenues.


The district is insured by Highmark Blue Shield, Vensel said.

The increase for district retirees could be much higher, Vensel said. He recently met with more than 350 retirees and employees approaching retirement, telling them that their premiums could increase as much as 80 percent from the current $245 per month to $445 a month next year.

"Health care in this nation is in a crisis and it's being pushed down to the district level," Vensel told the board Wednesday.

Alternative education and special education are two fast-growing parts of the budget, Ted Rabold, assistant superintendent for pupil personnel services, said Thursday. Additional expenditures previously approved for the 2004-05 school year include nearly $500,000 for 23 additional slots for students in alternative education programs, a special education teacher, eight teaching aides and psychological testing.

The cost of alternative education next year, Rabold estimated, will be close to $1 million. The district has 127 alternative education slots, including 45 at the alternative school run by the district, he said.

In January, the board approved spending $147,000 for the additional contracted slots at Cornell Abraxas, Manito, Preeminence and VisionQuest for use this year. For all of next year, the contracts on those slots will cost the district about $267,000.

"It's less expensive to contract it out than do it ourselves," Rabold said. The students sent to these programs, he said, are either academically, emotionally or socially unable to make it in a regular school, or pose a treat to their own safety or that of others.

"If we did not have these kids in alternative education, we'd have an additional $990,000 to $1 million to spend on other programs," he said.

The number of students in the English as a Second Language program has doubled in the past two years to more than 350 students with limited or no proficiency in English, Rabold said Thursday.

Superintendent Edwin Sponseller told the board the administration estimates it will need to raise taxes 5 mills or 6 mills to balance the budget. The board will review a draft of the 2004-05 budget at its Wednesday meeting.

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