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Chambersburg school board considers furloughs

October 29, 2009|By JENNIFER FITCH

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- An increasingly bleak financial picture in the Chambersburg Area School District has school officials scrambling to find any possible savings, including whether employees could be furloughed.

The district's fund balance, which is similar to a savings account, has been drawn down to between $1 million and $2 million, spokeswoman Sylvia Rockwood said.

For a district with just more than $100 million in annual spending, that amount falls well below the 6 percent to 8 percent auditors recommend be kept in reserve.

"We have a very, very depleted fund balance," Rockwood said.

The school board unanimously voted Wednesday to allow administrators to start a "professional staffing needs" study.

The study is legally a first step before furloughs could occur, Superintendent Joseph Padasak said Wednesday night.

Parameters of the study call for it to be "based upon instructional program requirements and student enrollment." It would determine minimum staffing needs, with recommendations made to the school board for "maintained, added, reduced or eliminated" positions.

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Results are expected in February or March.

Rockwood said the study ties in to the administrators' and board's desire to address the fiscal woes. They're asking "where can we make up this deficit?" while facing soon-to-increase energy costs, higher contributions to pensions and continued school construction, she said.

Steps 5 and 6 in the staffing study call for notification to employees and consultation with the district's legal counsel.

Board member Lori Leedy, chairwoman of the school board's finance committee, said work to create the 2010-11 budget will start soon.

The crystal ball to estimate revenues "is very cloudy these days," she said at Wednesday's meeting.

The problems started with the 2008-09 school year, when the district collected $2 million less in earned income tax than anticipated.

"We knew also that our real estate transfer tax and interest income would be much lower," Rockwood said, noting also that state revenues for 2009-10 will be $500,000 less than budgeted.

Those diminished revenue streams continue and they hammered the budget, which suffered despite cuts made before 2009-10 and what Rockwood called "a harsh spending freeze."

"Short-term borrowing to continue operations in the spring appears likely," administrators wrote in a memo to staff.

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