Carlisle Area School District

Pictured is the entrance to Carlisle High School.

Rick Coplen challenged local voters Thursday to hold accountable in 2020 the state lawmakers who fall short in their support of public education.

The retired Army officer had just joined six other members of the Carlisle Area School Board to approve a proposed $86.6 million budget for 2019-20 that includes a 3-percent tax hike.

The board has scheduled June 20 for a final vote to adopt the budget along with a motion to set the tax rate for next year at 14.9 mills — an increase of .4342 mills from 2018-19.

“No one at this table is happy about raising taxes, reducing teacher positions and all the other things we have to do to make this work,” Coplen said. “We have shown the political backbone and the courage to do this. I’m now calling upon our state legislators to do the same thing.”

Specifically, he wants those in the state House and Senate “to do the right thing” and approve Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget for public education that includes increases in the basic education subsidy.

Coplen urged voters to remember the voting record of state lawmakers when they come up for reelection a year from now. “If they won’t do what is appropriate for all of our children ... then it’s time to show them the door,” he said. “As a school district, we may be wrapping this up, but our state legislators are still in the middle of this.”

Striking a balance

Coplen called the current budget cycle “a difficult balancing act,” referring to a strategy recommended by administrators to close a projected $3 million-plus shortfall in the Carlisle school district budget for 2019-20. If approved, this strategy would use a combination of about $1.3 million in new tax revenue, $1.74 million in spending cuts and the transfer of $377,000 from reserves to the general fund.

The proposed spending cuts received the most attention from the public, mostly due to a transition plan that terminates the district employment of over 80 instructional aides and outsources those positions to ESS K-12 Education Staffing & Management Solutions.

District administrators 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.

Aside from outsourcing aides, administrators recommend the board cut four full-time teaching positions at the elementary school level and two full-time positions at the secondary school level for a projected savings next year of $450,000. Five of the six positions would be cut through attrition by not hiring replacements for teachers who retire or resign.

“It is always distressing when we don’t fill staff positions,” said Bruce Clash prior to voting in favor of the budget. He asked Superintendent Christina Spielbauer if there is flexibility built in to balance the need to save money with the need for manageable class sizes at the elementary schools.

This year the district has better enrollment numbers from kindergarten registration, Spielbauer said. “We are hopeful this would provide better data to us.” She said a staff member has gone to nonprofit organizations urging families to register their children early.

“Throughout the course of the summer, Dr. Friend and I will look at the enrollment numbers every day, if not several times a day,” said Spielbauer, referring to Assistant Superintendent Colleen Friend. “We will monitor it over the course of the summer and make adjustments as needed.”

Study due this fall

The board on Jan. 17 approved a resolution authorizing Spielbauer to conduct a comprehensive study of staffing needs not only for 2019-20 but future years.

That 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, administrators, teachers and other professional employees.

Board members on April 18 tabled a recommendation to cut German language instruction in the eighth grade next school year at both the Lamberton and Wilson middle schools. That proposal is off the table pending the results of the comprehensive staffing study.

“We are really looking forward to looking at the total picture,” said Deborah Sweaney, a school board member on the education committee. The plan is to offer German in some form in the eighth grade next year with the number of sections dependent on student interest.

District administrators could present their findings by September or early October, Spielbauer said. She would not disclose any details Thursday on the six staffing positions that could be cut, saying administrators still have to meet with faculty members who would be impacted by the change.

“We are in the end stages of wrapping up our enrollment analysis,” Spielbauer said.

Seven of the nine school board members voted Thursday to approve the proposed budget for 2019-20: Clash, Coplen and Sweaney along with Fred Baldwin, Paula Bussard, Gerald Eby and Linda Manning. Board member Anne Lauritzen was absent. Board member Brian Guillaume declined to comment after the meeting on why he voted against the budget.

Email Joseph Cress at jcress@cumberlink.com.