LEWISTOWN - The long, arduous task of preparing a 2013-14 budget for the Mifflin County School District began on Thursday when members of the School District Board of Directors were presented with a preliminary spending plan to vote on during the Jan. 31 business meeting.
During the monthly committee-of-the-whole meeting, Sean Daubert, the district's chief financial officer, presented a preliminary budget in the amount of $65,895,635, which includes federal program funding estimates. By law, the district can raise taxes by a maximum of 2.4 percent next year (before exceptions), Daubert said, adding that if the board chose to go higher than that, a referendum would need to appear on the spring primary election ballot.
"I'm sure we won't be doing that," Daubert noted.
Daubert said state law mandates that school districts pass a preliminary budget prior to the end of January. Then, the real work begins, he added.
"These are very preliminary numbers," Daubert stated. "We haven't yet been informed of what or if the state will give us an increase. The governor doesn't even put out his preliminary budget until February."
Daubert said in addition to the possible tax hike, the district can and will apply for certain exceptions, including retirement expenditures and special education expenditures as a way to increase revenue.
"We will apply for the exceptions in February and if the state says we can, we can generate additional dollars.," he reported. "Once we know that, we'll have a better idea of whet we're dealing with in terms of state numbers, probably in May or June."
Once preliminary approval is given, Daubert said he and the district's administration will begin developing the actual spending plan after meetings with principals and department heads. "By then we hope to begin the process by knowing what the governor is putting out there," Daubert added.
Moving forward, Daubert said the district will have to have an approved proposed budget in place in May. That document will then be available for public inspection for 30 days until final adoption at the end of June.
In other business Thursday, Superintendent James Estep reported that the district had received a number of bids for the boiler replacement project at the Mifflin County Middle School.
"We've gotten a very good outcome with regard to original projections," Estep said. "Early estimates came in at around $700,000 and the low bid we received is $330,000 to do the project. So that's good news."
Estep said the board will also be asked to consider bids for the renovation project at the Indian Valley Elementary Center during the Jan. 31 business meeting. Those bids are slated to be opened Jan. 29.
Also on Thursday, school safety was the topic of a discussion first raised by board member Kristen Sharp.
"In light of what went on in Connecticut, I feel we need to know what we're doing, what's working and what's not working with regard to the safety of the children," Sharp said. "Do we have measures in place to prevent that sort of thing?"
Vance Varner, director of secondary education, said the district has regular interaction with area law enforcement and participates in safety drills on a regular basis, including one that occurred last week at Lewistown Middle School.
"That went very well," Varner said. "We were able to identify a couple areas of weakness."
Varner added, "There's one underlying thing: We have school buildings, not institutions built to be secure. We need to look at that. It can be done. Take the old Lewistown High School for example. That building has 27 exterior doors. People still have to buzz in the main entrance but then they could turn right and be going down the hall. There are no easy solutions. One thing we need to do is start a dialog, talk a little bit, think."
Board member James Hurlburt noted, "It's pretty daunting, especially the ways our buildings are set up. If money wasn't an object we could bring them up to a certain level."
It was agreed by many that the location of the main offices in relation to the front door is problematic at certain buildings.
"We have a plan to update some of these places, but that doesn't immediately resolve the issue," Estep commented.
Sometimes, Varner said, complete security is downright impossible. "There was an officer in the parking lot at Columbine," he noted.
Estep then added, "We also have an unusual benefit in that Mr. Varner is former FBI and has training in safety and security. That's an unusual background for a school administrator but it's good for our district."
With regard to school safety, Estep said, "We need to continue conversations. As we continue to work with law enforcement, we will continue to update you, on a monthly basis if you'd like."
In a final comment, Sharp said, "In my personal opinion, we talk about doing all this work in schools. I'd rather see us put some of that money into the schools we're using to better protect our kids."
Other agenda items up for consideration by the board during its Jan. 31 voting session include:
A request from the Friends of Mifflin County Library to hold a benefit concert at Mifflin County Middle School on Thursday, April 18 and have the $400 fee waived. If approved, the Lewistown Community Band will perform to raise funds for the Mifflin County Library.
The hiring of Richelle Ehrenzeller for a part-time breakfast position at Mifflin County Middle School.
The addition of David Wilson to the cafeteria substitute list.
The deletion of Roxann Sheaffer from the cafeteria substitute list.
Approval of Jessica Dzupova, an 11th grader from Slovakia, as a foreign exchange student for the 2013-14 school year.
A recommendation that the retirement date for Linda Vance be adjusted to Jan. 25 due to a state requirement regarding two missed days because of Hurricane Sandy.
The hiring of Jane Looney as the school nurse at Mifflin County Middle School effective Jan. 23.
Acceptance of the following teacher retirements effective at the end of the current school year: Charles Patterson, science teacher at Mifflin County High School; Karen Soccio, kindergarten teacher at East Derry Elementary School; Sharon Wilson, Spanish teacher at Mifflin County High School; David McCachren, physics teacher at Mifflin County High School; Robert Schwartz, science teacher at Mifflin County Middle School; James Searfoss, English teacher at Mifflin County Junior High School; and Janette Selfridge, first grade teacher at Indian Valley Elementary School.
The following additions to the 2012-13 substitute teacher list: Tyler Fink, early childhood education; Emily Mater, French; Mandy Hall, health and physical education; Jane Hesketh, mid-level English; Brooke Hackenberg, all subject areas; and Richard Yingling, all subject areas.
A recommendation to delete Linda Dalby from the substitute teacher list.
A recommendation to hire Michelle Edmiston as a long-term, temporary second grade substitute teacher at Lewistown Elementary School effective Feb. 1, through the second semester of the current school year or less.
The hiring of Jennifer Miller as a full-time paraprofessional at Mifflin County High School effective Jan. 25.
The retirement of Donna Ciecierski, paraprofessional at Mifflin County Middle School, effective at the end of the current school year.
The resignation of Dana Henry, attendance secretary at Lewistown Intermediate School, effective June 11.
The resignation of Sally Weston, attendance secretary at Lewistown Intermediate School, effective June 14.
Approval of Thea Leddy as a classroom volunteer at Indian Valley Elementary Center for the purpose of Kid Writing for the remainder of the school year.
The hiring of Crystal James as administrative secretary at the maintenance building effective Jan. 21.
A recommendation to fill the vacated full-time secondary biology/secondary mathematics teacher position at Mifflin County High School with one full-time permanent secondary biology teacher and one part-time permanent secondary mathematics teacher.
A recommendation to hire the following fall coaches for the 2013-14 school year: Collette Bender, head fall cheerleading; Natisha Maclay, head field hockey; George Miskinis, head football; Kevin O'Donnell Jr., golf; Robert Lepley, head boys soccer; Steven DeArment, head girls soccer; L. Glenn Kyle, girls tennis; and Jill Zeger, head volleyball.
Approval of the following volunteer coaches for the 2012-13 school year: Kyle Bove, wrestling; Ashley Lewis, swimming; and Charles Harman, softball.
Approval for the Mifflin County High School Marching Band to travel to Annapolis, Md. and Washington, D.C. from April 5-7. The entire cost including transportation, tourist attractions and meals will be paid for by the MCHS Music Boosters.
Consideration of the revised Alma Mater, composed by C. Jerry Stone, former Mifflin County School District band director and arranged by Arthur Belfiore, current Mifflin County High School band director.