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Chambersburg board to consider $132.6 million building effort

August 18, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The Chambersburg School Board will hold a special meeting tonight to discuss and possibly act on authorization of a debt resolution to fund a $132.6 million building plan for the district, though state officials give conflicting views on the deadline for a decision.

The board voted 5-4 on July 21 to support a building plan for the district's three secondary and 17 elementary schools. The plan calls for a new high school for grades nine through 12, conversion of the existing high school and junior high to middle schools for grades six through eight, and reducing the number of elementary schools from 17 to 12.

"The board will have to direct the administration to proceed with a debt resolution that's in compliance with Act 72," Business Manager Rick Vensel said Tuesday, referring to the school property tax reform law enacted by the Legislature and Gov. Ed Rendell in July.

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"There's no clear guidance on Act 72 and, in fact, there's conflicting opinions out of Harrisburg (Pa.)," Vensel said.

The Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officers Web site had two responses from queries by business managers about the deadline districts need to meet to qualify for an exception to the new law, including one that allows districts to avoid a local referendum if the increase in real estate taxes exceeds an inflationary index set by the state.

One, by Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development spokesman Kevin Ortiz, stated districts can wait until 2006-07 to make up their minds. An earlier response, from Bernadette Barattini, a deputy chief counsel for the department, said a debt resolution needs to be approved within 60 days of enactment, or Sept. 3.

"I don't know if by Sept. 3 we'll know if Sept. 3 is cut in stone," Vensel said.

Board member Craig Musser said he may vote in favor of a debt resolution. He said he voted against the July 21 motion, only because it was not on the agenda.

"My only issue was I didn't want it brought off the floor like that," Musser said.

Musser said he does want specifics from the board before he votes.

"I want a long-range plan and I want a total package," Musser said. "I think the public deserves to know where we are going and why."

"I expect a lively discussion," Musser said.

Musser said he favors a building program that advances the secondary and elementary programs at the same time. Vensel said the district, which has a borrowing limit of about $136 million, says the building program will take 12 or more years and will require a series of bond issues.

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