WILKES-BARRE — Unexpected savings in health insurance premiums helped narrow a looming shortfall in next year’s Wilkes-Barre Area School District budget, school board members learned Tuesday evening, but many potential cuts in funding or increases in costs remain unknown.
Business Manager Leonard Przywara told the board’s budget and finance committee the good news during a committee meeting. The district is insured through the Northeast Pennsylvania School District Health Trust, a consortium of area districts, and had initially been told premiums would climb by 8.9 percent. That increase was revised down to 5.3 percent, Przywara said.
That cuts the expected increase from $1.18 million to $702,000.
The board has also ordered a 10 percent cut in spending for supplies, which will save about $120,250, Przywara said.
But there was bad news in the mix. Przywara said property assessment appeals have cut the expected real estate tax revenue by $229,706, and that the sequestration cuts in the federal budget could mean a 5 percent loss of federal money. The district received about $3.5 million in federal funds this year.
Przywara noted after the meeting that even a $463,798 increase in state money may rest on shaky ground because it is linked to pension reform proposed by Gov. Tom Corbett. If the reform is rejected, the extra money could evaporate.
An even bigger question mark is salary increases: Contracts for almost all district employees are being negotiated this year, and Przywara said that so far his figures do not include any pay increases.
Board members offered a variety of possible savings including trying to reduce garbage pickups during summer months — the district pays a fee each day trash is picked up. But Purchasing Director Jim Post noted collections are already reduced from five to three days a week and the Dumpsters are often full from school cleanings.
Board President John Quinn suggested the district sell 37 acres of land in Wilkes-Barre Township bought about 10 years ago but never used. Przywara said the intent had been to create sports fields, but plans drawn up were estimated in excess of $6 million and the idea faded.
Currently, the district uses various fields owned by local municipalities, and board member Lynn Evans said she had heard a rumor that cash-strapped Wilkes-Barreis considering charging more for use of city fields. Przywara said the district currently pays the city $17,200 annually for field use.
The board must pass a preliminary budget by the end of May and a final budget by June 30. Currently the numbers show income about $1.1 million lower than spending, Przywara said.