WAYNESBORO, Pa. — After two executive sessions that lasted 80 minutes and more than an hour of public testimony, the Waynesboro Area Board of Education voted 6-3 Thursday night to furlough seven teachers and reduce the hours of three more.
During a packed special meeting, the board chose the cuts instead of filling an unexpected budget gap with an additional tax increase for residents in the Waynesboro Area School District.
Board members Sherry Cline, Chris Lind, Firmadge Crutchfield, Billie Finn, Edward Wilson and Leland Lemley voted in favor of the motions, which cut two full-time employees' hours in half and another by a quarter in addition to the furloughs by seniority.
The approved motions call for cuts to high school physical education, business, social studies and foreign language classes.
The school board had called the special meeting to address a $203,675 shortfall that surfaced after the board had approved its preliminary 2011-12 budget with a property tax increase of 1.41 mills in May.
Under state law, the board could increase taxes by 1.8 percent, or 1.51 mills, for next year and has received approval to do so. One mill equals $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property value.
In May, the 1.41-mill increase — combined with cuts already approved by the board and the state — was enough to cover the school district's shortfall, which stood at $2.6 million when the budgetary process began several months ago.
But after the numbers were crunched and new teachers were installed in positions vacated by retirees, a gap still needed to be filled, according to figures presented by Superintendent James Robertson during the meeting at the district's administration building.
To make it work and meet the June 30 deadline to submit its spending plan for next year, the school district had a few options, including an additional one-mill tax increase or additional cuts to several programs that would cause furloughs for several teachers and reduce the hours of other full-time employees.
"The community cannot afford a tax increase more than the index," Lind said after the meeting. "That's what the people have said. That was confirmed with the last election. People said: 'I don't want to pay any more taxes.'"
Board members Bonnie Bachtell, K. Marilyn Smith and Pat Heefner voted against the motion for more cuts and reductions. All three have advocated raising taxes to ensure educational programs do not suffer.
A motion by Heefner to raise taxes by one additional mill, up to 2.41, was rejected by a 6-3 vote, with only Bachtell, Smith and Heefner voting in favor.
Officials have said the 1.41-mill hike would increase annual taxes by about $17 for the average property owner. One additional mill would have added about $10 to $15 more on average.
"This has been a tough budget year, and my feeling is that we should be more focused on the education of the kids and the level of education than on money," Smith said. "An extra 1-mill increase would've done away with all this."
But Lind said: "It's not that simple, because maybe the senior citizen doesn't have $10. It trickles down."
Smith and Heefner were voted out in the Franklin County primary election last month and will be replaced on the board in the next general election in November.
Although the names of teachers up for furlough were not released, a large number of people attended the meeting to protest those who could be potentially cut.
Derek Null, who graduated last week as the four-year president of the Waynesboro Area Senior High School Class of 2011, got choked up when talking about the possible loss of a social studies teacher.
Another 2011 graduate, Daniel Shotty, advocated for the teachers and skills he's learned from his high school business classes.
"Keep these teachers. They're great," he said.
Although it's possible that the district might receive more money than it currently expects and could save some jobs, time is running out to finalize the budget. The public needs 20 days to review it before a vote on June 30 could take place, Lind said.
Additional retirements could have also saved jobs, according to board members.
"If we do get two retirements, one in particular, it would save somebody's job," Lind said. "And those people, as somebody said tonight, they're working for nothing because they'd make more in retirement. If they'd step up and retire, they'd save their colleague a position."
The board expects to meet on June 30 to review any additional changes to the budget before approving it.