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Harmony works to develop spending plan
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
By Dianne Byers Staff Writer
WESTOVER - Like all school districts in the commonwealth, Harmony Area School Board is working on developing a proposed 2013-14 spending plan. The board is struggling to balance its next year's expected income against projected expenses but does not want to raise taxes.
Members are also questioning the wisdom of drawing down the district' surplus funds to balance the numbers after receiving warnings of the possibility of large increases, starting next year, to the amount it pays annually to the state employees retirement system fund.
Dr. Jill Dillon, district superintendent, who led a budget work session of the whole board last night, said budget decisions are difficult but the board's primary focus must be on student achievement with its first question about any expense being, "Is it right for students?" and the second, "Are we being fiscally responsible?"
Currently, although numbers for state income are not firm yet, the district expects income next year of $5,632,373 including $3,927,575 from state sources, $1,227,599 in local funds and $477,699 in federal stipends.
Expenses are projected at $5,747,642 leaving a deficit of $114,769. The district currently has a total of $1,553,527 in its fund balance however $590,820 of the money is committed to various projects leaving a balance of $903,625.
Some members said they are wary of drawing down the fund balance further with no additional revenue coming in to bolster it. Robin Kitchen, the district's business manager, said from a business perspective, she also did not advise it since no new development is planned within the district that could generate additional revenue. She said one-mill of taxes raises approximately $11,000 and indicated if the board was to raise taxes to balance the budget it would be looking at a hefty amount of mills.
Several board members inquired about additional cuts to expenses. Dillon said she did not know of any more that could be made. "I do not see any other cuts that the board could make without impacting students at this point in time."
Roberta Bradford, board member, said she believes the board should be examining its spending and the costs of running the district year around. "We need to focus on programs, (student) numbers and staff just like any other business would and find ways to be more efficient with less while still getting the outcome we need. We are at a crossroads where we need to take some really hard looks."
Dillon said during her presentation, the board's must also consider whether expenses improve the district's student curriculum and whether it continues to develop a learning environment that challenges students to think critically. Continued staff professional development and providing a safe and secure learning environment are also necessary, she said.
With a projected enrollment of approximately 300 students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade and the retirement of several instructors who want to take advantage of the early retirement incentive the board established recently, administrators are predicting no staff furloughs and only minimal hours for new hires would be needed this year, she said.
Other administrative recommendations are to move sixth grade to the middle school to allow small class sizes to be retained, fill the reading specialist position from within the current employee pool, move the long-term substitute for remedial math into a vacant Title I mathematics position and hire a five-hour per week mathematics instructor certified to teach grades 7-12 using general fund monies and hire a five-hour per week librarian using money from the state Keystone's to Opportunities grant.
Other new initiatives recommended by administration are to add a course for standardized college testing preparation, taking advanced placement courses online and adding third grade keyboarding to allow students to meet the newly implemented federal common core requirements. The computer labs would be updated on a rotating basis and a writing program for students would be added at a cost of $12,000. There would also be funds needed for staff development to meet the district's new literacy program.
Dillon said the district's language arts textbooks need to be updated at a cost of $80,000 and she is currently exploring any available grant that could fund the purchase.
The board plans to approve a tentative 2013-14 budget at Monday's business meeting. It must adopt a final version by June 30.
The board, at its work session that followed, discussed several matters for consideration at Monday's meeting:
• accepting the resignations for the purpose of retirement from John Cessna, middle and high school mathematics instructor and Ellie Neff, middle school instructor and school librarian.
Both resignations are effective at the close of the current school year.
• hiring employees for the extended school year program. Those recommended are Dawn Jarvie, speech therapist; Sonya Buterbaugh, high school special education instructor; and Deb McAfoose, elementary special education instructor. Each will work two days per week for five weeks during the summer.
• renewing an agreement, effective Aug. 1-July 31, 2014 with Camco Physical and Occupational Therapy LLC, Johnstown.
• approving a contract with Cen-Clear Child Services, Philipsburg, to provide student behavioral services for the 2013-14 school year.
• approving field trips including the marching band to perform at Memorial Day services May 27 at Cherry Tree, East Ridge and Westover. The cost was planned in the district's 2012-13 budget. Also a field trip for 61 middle and high school students in the On a Roll program to Moshannon Valley Super Bowl May 10. Transportation is being donated to the district.
• approving the list of graduating senior students. Currently 25 will be participating in the graduation ceremony contingent on successful completion of the state System of School Assessment tests and other graduation requirements.
Terry Young, high school principal, reminded the board about the Spring Fling, formerly the Ice Cream Social, tonight, beginning at 6 p.m. There will be many activities for all ages including kids' games, student project and classroom displays and an opportunity to visit the Clearfield County Bookmobile. There will also be cake and ice cream available for purchase and a basket raffle sponsored by the Harmony Area Education Boosters.
The board will meet for its monthly business meeting Monday at 7 p.m. at the high school library.
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