Last updated: May 07. 2013 6:29PM - 698 Views
By - rtomkavage@timesleader.com - (570) 704-3941

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CLARKS SUMMIT- Abington Heights Business Manager James Mirabelli presented the school board with a draft for a proposed $45,507,083 budget for the 2013-14 school year, resulting in a deficit of $2,522,472.

According to Mirabelli, health care costs are expected to rise by 10.5 percent, an estimated $1,528 more per employee than the previous year. The PSERS Retirement Contributions will also cost an additional $984,000 next year and there will be a $100,000 spike in expenses paid to the Howard Gardner Charter School in Scranton.

Abington Heights Superintendent of Schools Dr. Michael Mahon spoke about the possibility of making additional staff cuts by not replacing vacant positions.

“We’re losing great people,” he said. “This year, we have three elementary school retirees, one English retiree, one middle school retiree and one guidance retiree.

“If we choose to not fill three teaching positions at the elementary school, we anticipate the class size to increase to approximately 26 students across a grade level in all schools, likely second grade” Mahon said. “The cuts would save approximately $320,000.”

“The implications would be greater demands on the teaching staff, less individualization and access to classroom activities,” Mahon added. “The most significant challenge is that how we teach is very different than back in the day. We have become, by choice and necessity, much more inclusive of special education students in our regular education classrooms. Increasing class sizes has a particularly impactful effect on classes that involve students with special needs.

“In light of all that, given what we’re facing, I think it’s fair for the board to seriously consider eliminating the three elementary positions.”

There is one English vacancy at the high school. Mahon believes electives and class sizes would “likely remain largely unaffected.”

Mahon added the if the position is not filled, the district was save approximately $105,000.

There is one vacancy of an Math/Science teacher at the Abington Heights Middle School. According to Mahon, the average class size ranges from 24 to 28 and if the position is eliminated, class sizes would be pushed to near 30.

“Through the very strong efforts from Dr. Quinn, Mr. Elia and others of restructuring how we teach, by eliminating this position we would take some significant steps back with all the training for the delivery of instruction. I think it would be unwise to eliminate the position.”

There is also a vacant counselor position at the middle school.

“The role of counselors is growing,” Mahon said. “They provide critical support to students at risk and with special needs. I think it would be unwise the eliminate the position.”

Mahan added that if the position is not filled, the district would likely think about eliminating crisis counseling at the high school and move someone to the middle school.

According to Mahon, since the 2009-10 school year, 40 positions in the district have been eliminated, for a savings of $3 million.

Mirabelli reported that a maximum tax increase of 1.97 mils would increase revenue by $445,000.

A mill is $1 for every $1,000 in average assessed property value.

“Raising taxes won’t solve the problem, we have to work to lower pension costs,” Vice President William Acker said. “We can’t not do everything we can in all aspects of the budget. Otherwise, down the road, we will be out of options.”

Board member Michele Tierney suggested the possibility of starting a foundation to coincide with the AEIO.

The Abington Heights AEIO program recently received a check for $62,000 from The Community Foundation of the Endless Mountains.

“The conversation started with the EIO to partner with the district to start more fundraising for not only enhancing the education side, but also allowing for other entities, such as athletics and to allow alumni the opportunity to donate,” Tierney said. “I just want to plant the seed and I would really like to sit down with the business office and use this as the beginning step of incredible revenue.

“My vision is to take our AEIO Development Director, Tom McHugh, and use him district wide.”

According to Mirabelli, the business office sent out second notices to tax payers who had not paid their tax bill as of Nov. 15. Starting on Dec. 1, those will outstanding bills would receive a 10 percent penalty.

“As a result, our tax collection rate went from 92.9 percent to a high of 94.6 percent,” he said. “This is important because if you applied that number to the prior year, we would have taken in an additional $359,000.

Vice President Warren Acker reported that the Facilities Committee reviewed bids on proposals for a consultant for the pool, tennis court and fields projects.

“The committee’s view in both cases was to look at which consultant was going to give us the best price given the unknown situation,” Acker said. “We really need to explore the options, so we looked for a consultant that had a lot of experience in the field and would be able to give us the best answers and hopefully put together bid packages.”

The board voted 8-1 to authorize administration to engage Architerra, P.C. to provide engineering and architectural services for the purpose of repair and/or replacement of athletic facilities including tennis courts, track and athletic fields.

The board voted 9-0 to authorize administration to engage Aquatic Facility Design, Inc. to provide engineering and architectural services for the study and upgrade of the Abington Heights High School natatorium for $25,300.

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