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Tuscarora board continues work on school budget

June 28, 2005|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - Nine of the 12 teachers who retired from the Tuscarora School District won't be replaced and five full-time and three part-time support staffers probably will be laid off as the district wrestles with its biggest budget shortfall in years.

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Stapleford told about 200 people attending Monday's School Board meeting that the district is facing "an exceptionally challenging financial situation."

The nine-member board needs to adopt its 2005-06 budget by Thursday to meet the state law.

It was still working out details at press time late Monday.

The board had expected to go into the 7 p.m. meeting looking at a 12.55 increase in its mill rate to make up a $1.5 million deficit.

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At that rate, the owner of an average assessed home would pay $175 more a year in school taxes.

Stapleford announced at the beginning of the meeting that he was now recommending an increase of 9.98 mills for a $1.3 million deficit.

"Some will lose their jobs and we won't be replacing some retirees," the superintendent said.

Richard Kerr, the district's business manager, has said that teacher salaries and a 31 percent hike in health insurance premiums for district workers were major culprits in pushing the deficit.

The board and teachers have been in contract negotiations for more than a year. The teachers have been working without a contract since the last one expired in June 2004.

Earlier, the board had considered not replacing the high school music teacher during her one-year leave of absence as well as cutting the athletic director's position to part time.

Board President Jeffrey P. Spidel said the music teacher's position will be funded until the regular teacher returns next year.

Stapleford said he is not recommending that Athletic Director Dick Heckman's job be cut to half time.

Heckman, before Stapleford's announcement, told the board, in an impassioned plea that drew loud applause from the audience, that it would "be impossible" to do his job part time, that his "heart and life are in this job."

Heckman has been athletic director for 13 years at James Buchanan High School. He is also senior class dean.

Rodney Helfrick, president of the athletic booster club, told the board the club opposes a proposal to charge students $25 per season to participate in any sport that requires bus transportation.

"We voted unanimously against the proposal to charge a transportation fee, to cut the salary of the fitness room supervisor, to reduce the athletic director to a part-time position and to incur any type of pay to play," Helfrick said.

A loud groan went up through the audience with pleas to "make it across the board," when Helfrick was told the initial proposal was to include sports activities only.

Later the board said it might include any activity requiring bus transportation, but a final decision on which activities would be included would have to be made after consultation with other departments.

A sliding fee for students on reduced or free lunch programs also would be considered, board members said.

Spidel said earlier this month that the biggest reason for the big mill-rate hike was because of a school board policy in effect in the last three years to spend down its year-end reserves to balance the budget in lieu of raising taxes.

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