A community advisory group charged with helping find a way to keep the Tunkhannock Area School District solvent over the next decade has recommended the closure of two school buildings by the 2015-16 school year and a third school by 2018-19 .
Paula Eckert laid out the Community Advisory Committee’s findings in a PowerPoint presentation Monday night during a TASD School Board Budget & Finance Committee meeting.
By law the district cannot exceed a certain tax increase threshold without notifying the public in January of its intention to do so.
The CAC looked at mandated expense increases year-by-year for the district over the next decade which included among other things, major increases in the local district’s share of the teacher’s retirement accounts (known as PSERS).
And, taking the maximum property tax increase allowed by Act 1, the committee realized the district would still have to see additional annual millage increases “that would be unbearable” of 10.1 in the year ahead, 6.89 in 2015-16, etc., on up to 12.56 in 2021-22, and dropping down to 6.02 mills, in 2022-23, 2.17 in 2023-24 and 3.19 in 2024-25.
Eckert said the bottom-line recommendation “of our committee is that our school board has to save $2 million this year and maintain that savings every year for the next 10 years.”
She reviewed what Pennsylvania schools are required to offer regarding curricula and said the district far exceeded the minimum so there was a lot of room to work within.
Eckert said that closing the revenue/ expense gap faced by the school district would require two major steps:
1-Saving money by cutting operations and maintenance by $1.2 million, regular instruction by $900,000 and special education by $500,000, all savings based on a benchmark study of comparably sized school districts; and
2-enacting the maximum-allowable Act 1 tax increase each year for the next 10, unless further savings or revenue warranted otherwise.
And, the CAC made three major recommendations:
1-Close buildings and restructure grade configuration with two schoools by the 2015-16 school year, and assuming an enrollment decline continues, close a third school by the 2018-19 school year.
2-Accelerate attrition of 10 current staff.
3-Have zero hiring by reassigning existing staff based on certification or eliminate programs.
Eckert said that although the key work of the CAC was coming to an end, it recommended that the board approve the recommendations at its Sept. 25 meeting, and that superintendent Michael Healey take action steps that could integrate savings into the budget process.
The CAC would be willing to have a quarterly review of the district’s educational plan progress, and indeed a special education group chartered to create $500,000 in savings in the special education area would need to be formed.
Board president Mick Cronin asked the committee members present, “Which buildings are you recoimmending we close?”
CAC member Anne Demarco said that decision would be strictly left up to the superintendent, but she asked if she could share the present numbers with capacity of school.
Roslund presently has 310 students but has a capacity for 725; Mehoopany has 208 with a capacity for 350; Evans Falls has 233 students with a capacity for 475 students; Mill City has 207 students with a capacity of 425; the middle school has 787 students with a capacity for 985; and the high school has 827 students with a capacity for 985.
Cronin then asked about if schools were closed, “How long would students need to be on the bus?”
Healey said, “We could set up a maximum student ride time, and if we started to exceed that, we could add another bus.
“Then how would increased transportation costs change the picture,” board member Phil Farr asked.
“We’d have to figure that one out,” Healey said.
Cronin asked about the longest present bus ride, and Healey noted that he and business manager P.J. O’Shea created a 70-minute ride capacity, “but we don’t come close to that.”
Cronin said he thought the district was the second largest in the state geographically, and “Time on bus for students would be my biggest concern.”
Board member Rob Parry asked about the $500,000 savings in special education costs, and how did the committee come up with that number?
DeMarco said, ”We looked at 17 other schools to see what they were paying- but I can’t give you the specifics of where we could save.”
CAC member Deeata Nichols said the gap was actually larger than $500,000... something like $1.3 million for Tunkhannock compared to the 17 district average.
“We thought $500,000 was a decent balance,” Demarco said.
The CAC was appointed last December with an ojective to maximize revenues coming into the district and control costs consisted of Beth Goodwin, Anne DeMarco, Deata Nichols, Paula Eckert, John Burke, and Charles Pirone.
Cronin thanked the committee for its work, and said he would like to give the public a chance to hear from the committee and asked the CAC about giving its presentation again during the school board’s Sept, 18 work session.
Anticipating a large interest, that meeting will be moved from the regular board room in the Administration building on Philadelphia Avenue to the TAMS auditorium at 7:30 p.m.