Mountain View budget depends on contract talks

By Tom Fontana

With contract negotiations looming, Mountain View School District business manager Joseph Patchcoski describes the tentative budget for the 2013-14 school year as “based on the status quo.”

The ‘preliminary budget’ he presented to the school board Monday night, May 13, relies on current employee salary figures, but those numbers could change following upcoming labor relations talks. Patchcoski will present a proposed budget to the board at its meeting on Monday, May 20, which if accepted would then be posted for public view and comment. A final budget needs to be adopted by May 31.

The preliminary budget estimates expected revenues at $16.7 million, and expenditures around $17.28 million, resulting in a shortfall of about $1 million.

“There will probably be small increases in these numbers depending on the results of the contract negotiations,” Patchcoski told the board. “But no matter what, we’re still going to have to make up a deficit of around $1 million.”

Increases in next year’s budget over the current year include $358,000 in retirement pay, and $212,000 in Blue Cross/Blue Shield medication coverage.

A group of drivers who hold car contracts with the district attended the meeting to ask the board to consider an increase in their mileage reimbursement rate, which is about $1.08 per mile driven.
“Can you tell me how you come up with that figure?” spokesperson Kristin Canfield, Gibson Twp., asked the board. “At that rate, how much do you think we can end up putting in our pockets after we pay our expenses?”

She said in the last 10 years, drivers only got a 30-cent-per-mile raise from the district, but the average price of gas in the same period has gone up by $1.92 a gallon.

“The state reimburses the district for 80 percent of its transportation costs,” Canfield stated. “If the district gave us a 20-cent increase per mile, it would only cost the district about an additional $9,000 a year.”

The rate of $1.08 is for van drivers with six or more students. Car drivers receive rates of $1.04 or $1.06 depending on the number of students they carry.

“Van and car drivers should get the same rate,” added car driver Ruth Zeck, Gibson Twp., “because they drive the same number of miles no matter how many students they have.”

Patchcoski said the rate was set before he became business manager last fall, and he didn’t know how it was determined.

Canfield also voiced her concern about drivers not knowing students’ health issues because of confidentially rules, and suggested the possibility of driver liability if problems arise.

“We need to know something about the needs of these kids,” she said, “because I don’t want to lose my house.”

Concerning academics, high school principal Robert Presley asked the board to consider a change in the requirements for placement of students in “academic” or accelerated classes.

“These courses put students on a faster track beyond what they would get in a regular classroom,” Presley explained. “But some of them have poor homework habits, or something else that causes them to struggle in the advanced class, and they can’t keep up.”

Presley recommended that the grade requirement be raised from the current 88 percent to 93 percent for a student to qualify for an accelerated class. He also assured that advanced classes are not a requirement for success in higher education after high school.

“Regular classes are academic, they’re just as good,” he said. “The advanced, or accelerated, classes are basically for students who are able to work at a faster rate.”

He also asked the board to consider a ‘no waiver’ versus a ‘parent waiver’ policy when deciding if a student should be admitted to an accelerated class. ‘No waiver’ would mean that the school’s decision not to admit a student to an accelerated class would be final. A ‘parent waiver’ policy would allow parental override of the school’s decision.

“But if the student is admitted to the class over the school’s decision,” Presley explained, “the student would not have the option of dropping the class if they ended up falling behind.”

Presley was asking the board to make a decision for the upcoming school year, or wait to change the policy until the 2014-15 school year. The board tabled any further discussion until its next meeting.