Carlisle Area School District

Pictured is the entrance to Carlisle High School.

Tax hikes are not looked at as automatic or something to be taken for granted, Bruce Clash said Thursday.

In recent months, he has had the opportunity to talk to hundreds of his constituents as a Carlisle Area School Board member.

Time and again, the consensus was any increase would be tough for some, with stories circulating of homeowners struggling to pay the bill. But Clash also said Carlisle is not acting in isolation.

School boards across Cumberland County are approving tax hikes up to the maximum allowed under the Act 1 Index as districts transition over to a new fiscal year starting July 1.

Carlisle board members voted 6-1 Thursday to adopt a final $86.6 million budget for 2019-20 that calls for a 3-percent increase in the real estate tax from 14.4716 mills this year to 14.9057 mills next year.

The tax hike is to generate about $1.3 million in new revenue to help close a projected $3 million-plus budget shortfall. The board also approved about $1.74 million in spending cuts along with the transfer of about $377,000 from reserves to the general fund.

“We worked on both sides of the equation this time,” Clash said. “We made some significant cuts.”

In recent years, Carlisle board members have offset annual budget shortfalls mostly by transferring money out of savings and by approving annual tax hikes that were slightly less than the maximum allowed under Act 1. This budget cycle, there was more emphasis placed on deep spending cuts to keep reserves intact.

There was a lot of emotion and agony tied to the 2019-20 budget process that started taking shape in October, board member Anne Lauritzen said Thursday. Spending cuts received the most attention from the public, mostly due to a transition plan that terminated the district employment of over 80 instructional aides.

Outsourcing aides

The board Thursday voted to officially end their employment and instead outsource those positions to ESS Support Services LLC. District administrators had recommended the plan as a way to save the district about $550,000 next year in an effort to cap escalating health insurance and pension costs.

The board also approved an amendment to the ESS contract to provide for a four-tiered pay scale for those aides who decide to continue with the district under ESS. The pay scale takes into account the years of service aides have put in with the district. The administration has put in place an incentive to encourage a turnover of current aides already familiar with Carlisle schools and their students.

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If current aides file paperwork by June 30, their application for employment with ESS will proceed with minimal additional paperwork and their years of service with the district would definitely carry over. However, if current aides wait until after June 30, they will be treated as new employees with ESS and there would be more paperwork and processing involved. While years of service would be taken into consideration, it may or may not carry over to their ESS position.

When asked Thursday, Superintendent Christina Spielbauer could not quote the actual number of current aides who have taken advantage of the incentive. She did say it was “well over half.”

The proposal to outsource prompted aides and their supporters to routinely attend school board meetings from late fall to April 18 when board members approved the transition plan. Many of them expressed concern that the aides were being singled out for staffing cuts while others suggested the board slash administrative positions.

School board members Thursday approved a personnel report from Spielbauer that included the elimination of the assistant director of facilities position for a savings next year of about $85,000 in wages and benefits. Brad Howard will be furloughed from that position effective June 30.

Not singled out

Spielbauer said Thursday the assistant director is not an administrative-level position but is classified as a high-level support position. She said the 2019-20 budget includes other cuts in support positions outside of the instructional aides along with the elimination of the equivalent of six full-time teaching positions. Most of the teaching positions will be eliminated through attrition where the district will not hire a replacement for a teacher who either resigned or retired during the current year.

Positions eliminated through attrition are four elementary school teachers and a full-time math teacher at the high school. A full-time physical education teacher position will be reduced in hours to a 0.5 position.

The personnel report includes the involuntary demotions of two world language teachers. The demotions involve a reduction of hours from a full-time or 1.0 position to a part-time or a 0.7 position. The affected teachers are Nathan Strohl who teaches German at Carlisle High School and Kristine M. Amtower who teaches French at the Lamberton and Wilson middle schools. The elimination of six full-time equivalent positions is projected to save the district about $450,000 next year.

The board on Jan. 17 authorized Spielbauer to conduct a comprehensive study of staffing needs not only for 2019-20 but beyond. The study weighs needs based on instructional program requirements, overall enrollment, organizational efficiencies and student enrollment in specific classes or courses. It is meant to examine all job classifications including support staff, administration, teachers and other professional employees.

The first round of study recommendations was rolled out in the spring to coincide with the 2019-20 budget cycle. District administrators could present the next round of study findings by September, Spielbauer said. “We are in the process of restructuring the team in the central office, which will result in savings in the future.”

Email Joseph Cress at jcress@cumberlink.com.