School Board Passes Budget, Confirms Kindergarten Cutoff Date
Some Wyalusing Area School Board (WASB) members seemed relieved to have something other than a deficit-laden 2011-12 school year budget to discuss at the May 9 meeting, but other members were reticent to approve a proposal that they felt passed too much of a burden on to next year’s school board.
Barb Hugo and Vince Amoroso were among WASB members who agreed with Tari Trowbridge that a projected $800,000 shortfall in the $21,165,868 budgeted was a higher amount than most of the members were comfortable with, but Amoroso related that he felt strongly that the board had done the best that it could do in light of so many changes, which include the consolidation of the elementary schools and major funding cuts in education at the state level, coinciding in one school year.
“I think that we will have more solid numbers to go by next year,” Amoroso said to Trowbridge in response to her inquiries about several figures in the proposal.
In addition to the proposed sale of the four soon-to-close elementary school buildings, the district will tap into its “general fund budget” to cover some of the shortages. The account was set up as a sort of “rainy day” fund by previous administrations.
“Thank God we had insightful people on this board to think of that,” said Wyalusing Area School District superintendent Ray Fleming. “I knew that we were going to have to use the fund balance for two years.”
“We still may get more money from the state,” WASB member Richard Robinson added, hopefully.
“This will buy us some time until we see what we are going to get,” Hugo concurred.
“It’s just luck that we are meeting those numbers,” Trowbridge countered. “I don’t want to push this off one more year just because it’s easier to think that we will make this up by selling the (elementary school) buildings.”
“A lot of (costs) are going to be eliminated, and we put most of that in the budget,” added Fleming.
“I’m with you theoretically, as long as I can see a big change (in approaching the budget) for next year,” Trowbridge continued. “But what’s going to change next year when we don’t have (more) reductions in staff and the savings from not having those four buildings?”
“There was supposed to be a $1 million savings with this consolidation,” Robinson remarked.
“If we are using the one-time sale of the buildings to close that hole this year, we’re still in trouble next year,” said Trowbridge.
“We are delaying the inevitable,” Hugo concurred. “There were just too many unknowns to make serious staff reductions.”
Further discussion of the general fund budget and the manner in which it is reported sparked even more questions, the answers to which seemed to satisfy few members of the board.
“It’s a game that the state makes us play,” Robinson remarked.
Amoroso eventually made the motion to approve the budget, which was seconded by Hugo. Trowbridge, who referred to budget figures and other numbers brought up in association with the evening’s agenda, as “suspicious,” cast the sole dissenting vote. The approved budget will be available for public inspection through June 9.
Sept. 1 Cutoff Date for five-year-olds Approved
An agenda item concerning the date by which a child must be five years old in order to register for kindergarten that might have seemed trivial to some was anything but inconsequential to elementary school principal Joe Darrow.
Fleming related that the state has been pushing for several years to mandate that public schools start each school year after Labor Day, in large part due to a push by the state’s tourism industry to hold on to high school-age employees through the holiday weekend. Fleming related that the commonwealth has also “fluctuated” on a formula to determine the cutoff date for youngsters to be registered for kindergarten or first grade.
“Very few schools are following that formula,” he explained, noting that PSSA testing and other state mandates make it too difficult to get through enough of the curriculum without starting the school year in August. As for the issue of the cutoff date for five-year olds, Fleming noted that, “There have been extreme cases (during years when WASB established a cutoff date that coincided with the actual start of the school year) where parents have started their children in other school districts, then switched them back.”
Fleming suggested that the school board should discuss and approve a specific date, but he was about to table the conversation when he asked Darrow for his input.
Darrow was adamant that the board take up the issue immediately, stating, “I already have parents who want to register their children for kindergarten next year,” adding that having an arbitrary or shifting date was unnecessarily confusing. At his suggesting, Amoroso moved that Sept. 1 be established permanently as the date by which a child must be five years old to start kindergarten or six years old to start first grade. The measure was quickly and unanimously approved by the board.
School Board Meetings Location Debated
On the topic of approving a meeting schedule for the coming school year, WASB members found themselves deliberating instead where to hold the meetings. Board member Larry Franklin’s suggestion that future meetings be held in the new elementary school cafeteria when it is completed met resistance from several members who felt that the meetings could or should be alternated between the two buildings. In the past, the school board meetings were rotated amongst the high school and the four elementary schools to make them more accessible to members of the public in outlying areas.
While it was agreed that the Monday, Aug. 22 meeting would be held at the elementary school and paired with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house celebration, WASB members questioned the reasoning behind moving the meetings back and forth on a new, centralized campus.
“We spent a lot of time and money, so let’s enjoy it,” Darrow said of the new elementary school. “I think that we should be in both buildings.”
“I don’t care where we go. I just don’t want to be bouncing around,” said Chad Salsman, who gained the support of fellow board member Crystal Hons. Salsman suggested also that public participation at the meetings might increase if they were held at a consistent location.
Several proposals on the topic were put to a vote, but none of them received a majority vote, with most members abstaining. WASB chairperson Deborah Stethers suggested tabling the measure until Aug. 22, which met with general approval.
Other Important Business
John Waltman of Quandel, the company associated with the building of the new elementary school, reported to the board that everything is going as planned, and most of the construction should be completed by the first week of July. Some tiling work remains to be completed, as does paving of and marking the parking lots.
Century 21 Realtors agents Bill Them and Keith Estes gave a brief presentation to the board on the topic of listing the four elementary schools with an established real estate company to extend the reach of the listings.
Them, who has life-long ties to the Wyalusing area, noted that his company has many contacts within the gas industry, in addition to other investors who would be interested in the properties. Estes added that he would appreciate the opportunity to put his 17-plus years of experience to work for the school district. “I want to see you get the best buck that you can,” he stated.
Them related that he was asked to speak to the board on short notice and would hope to pursue further discussion and obtain any facts and figures that the school district could share with him.
Amoroso suggested that a tour of the buildings could be arranged for the realtors, and Salsman asked if Them and Estes could provide more information about commissions and other terms of engagement in writing.
The board moved to grant a request by Parents of the Class of 2011 to hold an all-night party at the high school immediately following commencement exercises, as well as a request by Carl Remington to purchase a new 72-passenger school bus for the upcoming school year.
In other news, Robinson was confirmed as the district’s treasurer for the next school year, and Donna Repsher was confirmed as the district’s business manager, a post that she had assumed as an interim position.
To learn about more agenda items discussed by the school board on May 9, readers may log on to www.wyalusingrams.com. The next regular school board meeting will be held in the high school cafeteria on Monday, June 13.