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CASD seeking exemptions from caps on school budget

December 23, 2007|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. ? More all-day kindergarten classes, a new elementary school, the start of a $73.8 million high school renovation and expansion and a tax increase and the first budget to crack the $100 million mark are among the things residents of the Chambersburg Area School District can expect in 2008-09 school year.

Last week the Chambersburg School Board reviewed the budget, a process that begins months earlier than it once did since the Act 1 property tax shifting law went into effect. Preliminary approval of the budget is scheduled for Jan. 9, to give the district time to apply to the Pennsylvania Department of Education for exemptions that would allow the district to pass a tax increase exceeding the 5.3 percent inflationary index set by the state, Business Manager Rick Vensel said.

The proposed tax increase is 5.57 mills, which would raise taxes to 82.48 mills, or $82.48 for every $1,000 in assessed value on a property. That would raise taxes on a property with a $100,000 market value by $51.65, according to the budget summary.

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The district is seeking exemptions from the cap for construction and special education costs covered by Act 1, Vensel told the board.

The budget calls for the district to add five full-time and two part-time teaching positions at a cost of $390,000 to expand the all-day kindergarten program from 11 to 22 classes. By 2009-10, the district plans for its 32 kindergarten classes to be all-day, said Director of Information Services Sylvia Rockwood.

"It's not the same old kindergarten with snack time and nap time ... It's academically rigorous," Rockwood said.

Two special education positions are also being added, along with a social worker and an English as a Second Language supervisor. In a district with more than 8,500 students, about 400 are enrolled in ESL classes, said Rockwood.

While most of those students speak Spanish as their primary language, Rockwood said the list of languages spoken includes Greek, Italian, Creole French, Hindi, Russian, Gujarati (a region of India) and different dialects of Chinese. The district has 17 ESL instructors, she said.

This will be the second year of the district setting aside $303,000, about 0.5 mills in real estate taxes, for technology purchases. More than $600,000 is being set aside for facilities improvements aside from capital projects such as the new U.L. Gordy Elementary School and the Chambersburg Area Senior High School project.

On Wednesday the board approved a series of contracts for the high school project, which will get under way with demolition in the spring. The project will more than double the size of the 52-year-old school to more than 500,000 square feet, adding a three-story academic wing, another gymnasium and renovating the existing building.

Higher fuel prices will up the transportation budget by $129,000 to more than $4 million, according to the budget summary. The cost of heating, cooling and lighting buildings is expected to increase $80,000 to more than $1.7 million.

An annual lament at budget time is that the state subsidy for the district continues to fall. This year it was 32.6 percent, but Vensel projects it at 31.2 percent next year. Local funding will increase from 64 percent this year to almost 66 percent next year.

Vensel told the board he was estimating the state subsidy. While the 501 districts in Pennsylvania have budget estimates in January, the state will not unveil its funding proposal for schools until February.

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