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Carlisle Area School District

Pictured is the entrance to Carlisle High School.

Carlisle Area School Board will stay the course and vote May 16 on a proposed 3-percent real estate tax increase to help offset a projected $3 million-plus shortfall in the 2019-20 budget.

Budget/finance committee chairman Gerald Eby had asked fellow board members Thursday to consider a tax hike slightly lower than the maximum allowed under the Act 1 Index. Though Eby was absent for health reasons, Board President Paula Bussard passed on his request for discussion during the committee meeting.

The proposed tax hike would generate about $1.3 million in new revenue to close a shortfall in the $86.5 million budget for next school year. District administrators have also recommended about $1.74 million in spending cuts along with the transfer of $377,000 from reserves to the general fund.

If approved, the tax rate would go up by .4342 mills from 14.47 mills this year to 14.9 mills next year. The owner of a home assessed at $100,000 would pay $1,490 in taxes next year, up $43.42 from the current year.

Go for the max

In the past, Deborah Sweaney has been against approving tax hikes up to the allowable maximum. This time around, she sees it as yet another hard decision board members need to make given the fiscal reality.

On April 18, board members voted 7-1 to approve a transition plan that terminates the district employment of over 80 instructional aides effective May 30. The plan outsources the positions, giving current aides the opportunity to seek employment through ESS K-12 Education Staffing & Management Solutions.

District administrators had recommended the outsourcing in an effort to cap escalating health insurance and pension costs. The aides voiced concern the outsourcing could cause instability and hurt special needs students.

Board member Bruce Clash had that in mind Thursday when he turned down Eby’s request. “We have told people here that we are in dire straits,” he said. “To not capture all the revenue we can I think would be more of a slap in the face to the instructional aides we just terminated.”

The proposed tax increase comes out to less than $4 per month for home owners with property assessed at $100,000, Clash said.

Rick Coplen also opposed not going with the maximum. “If Gerry was here, I would ask him directly ‘If we don’t raise it to the 3-percent, where would that additional funding come from?”

Most likely, the board would have to draw out more money from district reserves, Coplen said. Reserve funds are like saving accounts. Once exhausted, the money is gone.

In late June 2014, the total fund balance for the district was 24 percent of its expenditures for fiscal year 2013-14, business manager Owen Snyder said. That percentage will decrease to 15 percent at the end of the current fiscal year. “Fifteen percent is still solid, but to protect that in the future, you will need to take action, and part of that action is a tax increase,” Snyder said.

Pay scale change

Board members April 18 approved the transition plan for the outsourcing with the understanding that administrators would take another look at the proposed tiered pay scale for aides who decide to continue under ESS. Current aides with years of experience have complained that they would be making the same hourly wage as ESS aides hired off the street with less experience.

Superintendent Christina Spielbauer briefed the committee Thursday on a revised pay scale that is based on the years of service aides have put in, not on an hourly pay range as the prior tiered system. The new scale has four tiers that start with a daily rate of $80 to be paid to people with zero to six years of service.

The second tier of $86 per day would be paid to aides with seven to 13 years of service. The third tier of $92 per day would be paid to those with 14 to 20 years of service. The fourth and final tier of $98 per day would be paid to people with 21 or more years of service.

The district recently invited aides to meetings where they could talk directly to ESS representatives and obtain new information, Spielbauer said. “We had 70 individuals show up. We are very pleased.”

She said the good turnout does not mean that the 70 aides will seek employment through ESS. But there is an incentive in place to encourage a turnover of current aides already familiar with Carlisle schools.

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 will definitely carry over, Spielbauer said.

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.

Under the prior tiered structure, the district would have saved about $600,000 in personnel costs next fiscal year, Spielbauer said. But under the new structure, the savings would be reduced to $550,000. To balance that loss in projected savings, the district would have to transfer $377,000 from the fund balance instead of the original recommendation of $327,000.

Staffing cuts

Aside from outsourcing aides, administrators are recommending the board cut six full-time teaching positions next year for a projected savings of $450,000. Four of the six positions would be in the elementary schools while two of the positions would be at the secondary school level.

The district could cut five of the positions through attrition by not hiring replacements for teachers who either retire or resign. One of the six positions could involve a furlough. Spielbauer Thursday would not specify what positions could be eliminated, saying district administrators are processing student enrollment projections and course selection data to pinpoint the changes in coverage.

School board members April 18 tabled a recommendation to cut German language instruction in the eighth grade next school year at the Lamberton and Wilson buildings. That proposal is now off the table pending the results of a comprehensive review of all curriculum programs by the superintendent and her administrative team.

German language instruction will be offered next school year at the middle school level, Spielbauer said. The number of sections will hinge on student interest and the outcome of the annual enrollment and course selection review.

Email Joseph Cress at jcress@cumberlink.com.

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Education/History Reporter

History and education reporter for The Sentinel.