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Waynesboro Area School District budget discussions continue

April 12, 2011|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com

WAYNESBORO, Pa. — A $1.9 million budget shortfall remains in the forefront of the minds of Waynesboro Area School Board members, and concerned taxpayers are serving as a constant reminder of that fact.

Waynesboro Area School District Superintendent James Robertson provided a brief update to the district's fiscal situation for 2011-12 at the start of the board's meeting Tuesday night, before giving way to about an hour-long conversation from the public.

Dozens of community members and teachers filled the board room, with many people standing in the doorway while others chose to take a seat on the wooden floor for the discussions.

According to Act 1, which governs how much a school district can raise taxes in a given fiscal year, Waynesboro could choose to stay within the index and raise taxes by 1.8 percent (1.5 mills) or raise the rate up to 6.4 mills.

If the district chooses to stay within the index, it would net an additional $359,000 toward filling the budget hole while the maximum raise would bring in about $1.5 million, Robertson said.

Robertson explained how millage increases would affect taxpayers, based on the assessed value of their homes.

He also touched on the issue of implementing a "pay-to-play" program for Waynesboro athletics. If students were forced to pay $75 for one sport, $50 for a second and $25 for the third, it could generate close to $56,000 in revenues for next year, he said.

"This is a new paradigm in the way of education," Robertson said in closing. "The decisions we're making right now — are kind of like, what's more important: your heart or your brain? That's a tough decision to make."

Quickly after his presentation, taxpayers began voicing their opinions on how to address the shortfall.

In response to instrumental music at the elementary level being taken off the list of potential cuts, Lynn McBride of Washington Township said that "all programs need to be looked at" when considering cuts.

"Elementary instrumental music does not affect all students in this school district," she said, referring to that program being removed from consideration in district cuts. "I'd love to have music, I'd love to have art classes, but we can't have all of them."

WASHS music teacher Eric Griffith spoke later, saying that music is, in fact, an integral part of a quality education. Losing music at the elementary level would ultimately have an adverse effect at the high school level, he said.

Many folks came forward to urge the board to not cut specific programs, such as family and consumer sciences that are not required under Chapter 4 regulations.

Board member Leland Lemley asked speakers to then offer a means to generate the required funds to keep those programs alive.

"You only have two ways to raise revenues: cut programs and personnel or raise taxes," he said. "So if you are saying 'don't touch this program or that program,' at least tell us where to raise the offsetting revenue."

"Then, as a taxpayer, I say raise my taxes to the max," said Phyllis Deatrich, a family and consumer science teacher in the district.

Conversations later gravitated toward the audience as several people supported the need for higher taxes while others remained firm that some simply cannot afford it. Board president Edward Wilson ultimately had to end the conversation, which became somewhat heated at times.

"If this doesn't get a little nicer, I'm going to stop this," said Wilson. "I don't want this banter back and forth."

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