MV board discusses budget options

BY VIRGINIA CODY

Mountain View School Board discussed its 2011-12 budget options for a prelliminary general fund budget of $17.9 million at a work session Monday night.

Business manager James Mirabelli said, “That’s $580,098 more than last year” and attributed the increase to increases in salary and benefits for school employees.

“This is just to keep the status quo,” he said.

In order to try to meet this 3.3 percent increase, Mirabelli proposed three options for the board to consider and vote on at its next meeting. 

The first option was to approve the state maximum increase in taxes of 1.9 percent.

The second option is to approve the 1.9 percent increase in taxes but reserve the right to levy an additional tax increase by filing for exceptions.

“This means we’d go to the State and say ‘I have this expense and I am under undue duress and we need additional funds,” Mirabelli explained.

The third option was to pass the preliminary budget as is and put the question of a higher tax increase on the ballot for voter approval.

Tabling discussion of the third option as improbable, board members debated the first two options in detail.  While some board members expressed satisfaction with the second option, member Dava Rinehart-Cowan said she did not.

“I think this is ‘backdooring’ the taxpayer,” she said. “I don’t want our senior citizens choosing between heat and medications and paying taxes.”

Rinehart-Cowan also said she believed the school district could do more with less money if they thought “outside the box.”

Board member Ellen Aherne agreed and suggested that school employees “tough it out.”

“We’re going to need to determine what programs we’re going to curtail,” Chichura responded.

Chichura reminded the board members that the administrative staff had already made great strides in reducing expenses during 2009 and 2010 and ended up in the positive.  As a result, the district hasn’t had to increase its budget for supplies and equipment. 

Rinehart-Cowan suggested the school district go back to the basics and move away from some of the technology programs currently offered to students.

“Our census is falling,” she said.  “Technology isn’t mandated by the state (for the lower grades).  Maybe we have to revamp the whole thing.”

Board member Kevin M. Griffiths seconded Rinehart-Cowan’s sentiment and expressed concern about the number of field trips students and teachers take.

“A teacher needs to be in the classroom,” he said.

“Rinehart-Cowan agreed.

“Teachers need to teach, not manage study hall.  Teachers should teach more classes,” she said.

The board will decide which option to take at its next meeting on January 17.

Other Finance Committee topics under consideration during Monday night’s meeting included the announcement that the district would be using a new and less expensive internet service provider, a review of the proposals for new copiers and an explanation of how Medical Access Funds are channeled to the school. 

“We have to incur an expense before we can get the money,” Mirabelli said and then went on to explain how after services are provided and approved, the district has funds put into reserve which can be drawn upon later.

“We have to earn and spend in order to receive,” he said. 

Chichura, representing the Policy Committee, and explained that he plans to create a new policy manual for the district by the end of August.  In order to do so, he recommended that revised policies be submitted for School Board discussion and review at each of the upcoming meetings. 

“I hope we’ll have final adoption of the policies in May,” he said.  “That’s my goal right now.”

While Chichura presented 20 revised policies for a first reading, only the policies related to volunteers in the classroom and school employee email communication with students required substantial revision. 

“Any volunteer will be approved by the board,” said Chichura.  “And volunteers who are not ‘casual’ volunteers will be required to obtain Act 34 and 151 clearances.”

School employees who communicate with students via email must do so using their school email account, Chichura told the board.

“That makes sense,” said Rinehart-Cowan. “So we have a record of what’s being said.”

Aherne, however, expressed concern that the policy was at odds with the way coaches communicated with their players. 

“If we’re going to have a policy, it has to apply to everybody,” she noted.

The school board also reviewed five requests from teachers to attend various conferences and five field trip attendance requests. 

In addition, board members debated whether the purchase of new lawn mowers would be more economical than repairing the old ones. 

Chichura also recognized all members of the school board for their support of the school district and community with certificates given that he noted January was ‘School Director Recognition Month.’

The school board will vote on all agenda items at its next meeting on Jan. 17.

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