MIFFLINTOWN - Juniata County voters rejected a potential 25-percent school tax increase but put the future of kindergarten, the arts, agriculture, building trades and other educational programs in doubt for the school district, according to unofficial vote tallies Tuesday night.
Voters overwhelmingly voted "no" to the tax referendum question, with 6,039 votes, or 81.74 percent, opposed versus only 1,349 votes, or 18.26 percent, in favor, according to the unofficial results.
"The people have spoken, and they don't want a tax increase," Juniata County School Board President Mark Wagner said. "The administration and board are hopeful that Gov. Corbett can allocate us more money."
The Juniata County School District asked voters to choose between an 11.35 mill tax increase to fill a $3.1 million budget deficit or a slew of cuts that would eliminate or reduce educational programs like kindergarten, vocational agriculture, building trades, industrial arts, business education, family and consumer sciences, secondary art and music, and extracurricular activities, along with numerous employee layoffs attached to those programs. Other staff reductions include two guidance counselors, an elementary principal, 2.5 secretaries and 10 paraprofessionals.
"We're going to have to make cuts," Wagner said. "It won't be easy. The administration has given us a bare-bones budget to work with without raising taxes above the index."
The school district asked voters to consider a tax increase greater than the 1.9 percent allowable after Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed budget made drastic cuts to education funding and grants, such as those that the Juniata County School District uses to pay for kindergarten.
Acting Superintendent Kay Shehan Hughes called the vote "unfortunate," saying that students will lose valuable programs because of the funding losses.
The school board will be asked to approve a $30.3 million budget for the 2011-2012 school year during a meeting Thursday. The budget includes 55.459 mills in real estate tax, a 3.1 mill increase.
Already the school district has reduced expenses through employee salary freezes, suspension of certain purchases, project deferments, staff reductions and more. The possible closure of Susquehanna Elementary also is up for consideration.