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Fannett-Metal School District facing budget woes

'Because we are a rural school district, ... the opportunities to cut things are less'

May 22, 2012|By JENNIFER FITCH | waynesboro@herald-mail.com

WILLOW HILL, Pa. — The smallest school district in Franklin County, Pa., is grappling with some huge problems related to finances as it faces possible teacher furloughs, fewer courses and serious supply cuts.

Fannett-Metal School District could start the 2012-13 school year with a budget deficit, as it has done in recent years. Deficits have ranged from $270,000 to $600,000 in each of the past three school years.

They represent a hefty amount for a school district that operates on a $6.8 million annual budget.

“Because we are a rural school district, ... the opportunities to cut things are less,” Superintendent James T. Duffey said, noting that the district has fewer resources and staff from which to cull.

For example, while a larger school district could trim its industrial arts program, Fannett-Metal only has one teacher in that program. A layoff would effectively eliminate the offerings.

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The school board and administration continue to look for savings in all areas — from already eliminating middle school sports to not buying copier paper.

State funding for the district has been stagnant or slightly reduced in recent years at a time when expenditures are on the rise, according to Duffey.

All Pennsylvania school districts are feeling the pressure of making increased contributions to the state pension system and most are seeing lower collection rates on their local taxes.

“We haven’t budgeted for textbooks in the last three years,” Duffey said. “The money for textbooks just hasn’t been there.”

The community has come forward and helped in some cases.

The district implemented “pay-to-play” for its sports, establishing athlete fees of $25 for one sport, $40 for two and $50 for three. Amberson (Pa.) United Methodist Church responded by offering to pay the one-sport fee for any would-be athletes who couldn’t afford to pay.

Residents also stepped up and paid for some field trips, like one for Special Olympics students, after the district eliminated all field trips and travel.

The Fannett-Metal Education Foundation allows companies to receive earned income-tax credits for contributions to the school district. It has helped the district with maintaining technology.

Like other Pennsylvania school boards, Fannett-Metal’s leaders are limited in the amount by which they can raise property taxes. The maximum increase for 2012-13 is 2.2 percent.

The district, which enrolls about 530 students, lacks a commercial tax base.

Negotiations with the teachers’ union began in October 2011 for a contract extension. The average teacher salary is $47,615.

“Everyone here took a wage freeze last year,” Duffey said.

Duffey said the wage freeze came with an agreement there would not be furloughs. He said he does not know if that same guarantee could be made for the 79 employees in the coming year.

The number of required credits to graduate might be reduced to trim offerings.

“We’re no different than others. Rather than a school district with a multimillion-dollar budget with a multimillion-dollar deficit, (we’re smaller) ... but for us, because we don’t go so deep into any area, that’s a problem,” Duffey said.

Fannett-Metal’s high school was built in 1954; its elementary school was built in 1974. Neither has had a major building project, other than the addition of a library in 2003.

“We really could use an upgrade or renovation,” said Duffy, noting that is not possible because of today’s economic realities.

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