Susquehanna Community squarely facing tough proposal

BY ROBERT L. BAKER

The Susquehanna Community School Board announced some drastic steps Wednesday night that will likely need to be taken to address a significant budget shortfall anticipated for the 2011-12 school year.

Superintendent Bronson Stone said it was unquestionably the most disheartening meeting he’s ever had to deal with a balanced budget.

The board deferred a vote until a special meeting on April 6 and noted it was dealing with a projected starting budget deficit of $1.4-1.5 million, that included a $918,814 reduction in state funds based on what Gov. Tom Corbett proposed last week.

He said the cut amounted to about $1,018 per student and felt the funding formula used was inherently biased against poorer school districts.

The dire news at one level was that 16 positions will need to be cut.

The superintendent said a hard look was taken at the Pennsylvania school code as to what might be considered “optional” in the state’s eyes to reduce another $621,170 in labor costs.

Among the positions curtailed would be a K4 teacher and aide by cutting kindergarten to half day, eliminating a high school family and consumer science person, high school library/English position, high school assistant principal, copier room aide, single elementary school positions in art, tech, library and music, a copier room aide, tech assistant, part-time maintenance, security and a high school front office person.

“There is not a position here that doesn’t have value,” Stone said and he regretted he had to propose to the board to even think about making ends meet in this fashion because “our mission in the district is providing the best education for our students.’

“We haven’t lost sight of that,” he said.

Stone cautioned that the planning did not factor in federal revenues which might also be in decline or not forthcoming.

Another tier of action amounting to a savings of around $511,000, Stone said, included not replacing another three employees, reducing building level expenses, merging the golf and wrestling programs with Blue Ridge, eliminating department heads, changing two school plays a year to one, converting a behind-the-wheel driver ed program to a fee-based program, eliminating the marching band, reducing the activity bus to two nights a week, reducing lunchroom duties of teachers and not filling a position of a person taking a one-year leave.

Acknowledging that the district received a Pennsylvania “great school” award last year, Stone said, his goal was still to oversee a great education for Susquehanna Community students “but the challenge now will be to do this by doing more with less. It will not be easy.”

He said there was still some fine-tuning and also told the board that if school employees would forego a pay increase in the year ahead, the school could potentially save four teachers and four noninstructional personnel in the mix.

“These are decisions that are not pretty,” Stone said, “but we really don’t have much choice.”