Avonworth Trims 2004-05 Budget To Reduce Tax Hike

Published May 5, 2004

Revisions have already trimmed close to $200,000 in expenditures from the Avonworth School District's preliminary 2004-05 budget, and school board members met last week to identify other cuts that might reduce a projected 3 mill property tax increase.

The rough draft of the preliminary budget presented to the board on April 5 showed $16.3 million in expenditures, compared to $14.5 million in expected revenue. The revised preliminary budget presented to Board members at a special meeting on April 26 had cut expenditures to $16.1 million by cutting some $184,000.

Director of Fiscal Management Brad Waters told board members that the cost reduction was accomplished by having all of the Title I coordinator's salary paid from federal funds; eliminating stipends budgeted for three interns who will not be hired because suitable interns could not be found, reducing the number of books to be purchased to match student enrollment, cutting an Allegheny Intermediate Unit services cost increase that did not happen, and eliminating a special education bus run that is not needed.

According to Waters, these reductions lower the tax increase that is necessary to balance the budget to 2.7 mills.

Board members hoped to reduce the proposed increase to 2.5 mills, but found it hard to identify and agree upon specific cost cuts.

Waters had prepared a list of proposed cuts to the budget. Eliminating the sixth grade teaching position that was approved in March would save the District about $50,000, while not hiring substitutes for two teachers on sabbatical next year could reduce costs by $71,000. The mid-day kindergarten bus runs could be discontinued for a savings of $28,000. About $22,000 could be picked up by delaying the replacement of lap-top computers. A plan to purchase track equipment that would enable the school to host home meets could be scrapped for a savings of $27,000. Finally, the District could reduce the funding of the summer reading program to $10,000, which would be paid by Avonworth Communities Together (ACT), for a total savings of $30,000.

"I don't want to go backwards," Board member Brenda Barlek said, noting that she would not consider making a majority of the cuts proposed.

Board member Robert Wible stated that the summer reading program funding should only be reduced by the amount of funding that will be received from ACT. Board member Peter McKay asked, and the Board agreed, to keep funding the summer reading program at $30,000, with $20,000 coming from the District and $10,000 from ACT.

Not hiring two substitutes for teachers going on sabbatical would, according to Superintendent Dr. Valerie McDonald, increase class sizes to 23 or 24 students in both first and second grade for one year.

"We're going from 17 to 18 (currently) up to 24. Personally, I think it's a horrible move," board member Peter Domencic said.

"I'm not willing to do that," Templin said, and the Board agreed.

A majority of Board members also stated that they wanted to keep the mid-day bus run for kindergarten, so that cut also will not be considered.

Board member Marybeth Sommers noted that, while the track equipment would be nice to have, it is not a necessity and could be eliminated from the bud-get.

The Board also discussed funding transportation for the indoor guard, which costs $9,500. Wible stated the District should only fund half of the transportation. Sommers suggested that the Board reduce its funding to $5,000. Board president Jane Angelini noted that the guard is the only Avonworth club sport that has its transportation paid by the District.

The funding for Avonews, the school newspaper, also was discussed. The District has budgeted $7,500 for the next year. Angelini noted that no ads are sold in the paper, and it is distributed for free. Board member Joann Gorman suggested that the funding for Avonews be reduced, but met opposition from the rest of the Board, including Domencic. "We have an award-winning paper," Domencic noted. The Board decided that it would not consider cutting the funding of the newspaper.

The board will, however, consider eliminating the sixth grade teaching position and making upgrades to the current lap-top computers as opposed to replacing them or delaying their replacement.

According to Waters, the board will vote on whether to approve the preliminary budget at the work session meeting on May 5 because the budget needs to be posted for 30 days before the final version can be approved in June.

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