LEWISTOWN - The Mifflin County School District is one step closer to adopting a 2014-15 General Fund Budget following action taken Thursday by the Mifflin County School District Board of Directors.
By a 7-2 vote, the school board voted to approve the proposed spending plan in the amount of $70,489,385, including a real estate tax increase of 2.4992 mills, which represents a hike of 8.1 percent. Voting in favor of the proposed spending plan were Mary Lou Sigler, Anne Marie Swineford, Richard Smeltz, Dr. Ruth Armstrong, Neil Russler, Kristen Sharp and Robert Hammond. Voting against the measure were Beth Laughlin and John Knepp.
During a budget meeting held earlier this month, Chief Financial Officer Sean Daubert noted that 8.1 percent would average out to an increase of $92.64 per taxable parcel.
On Thursday, during the public comment period prior to the budget vote, two local residents expressed their displeasure and questioned the board as to why the tax increase is needed.
Mark Colussy, a resident of Oliver Township, noted that he believes previous boards have been "horrendous" in looking at the long-term needs of the district. He added that an 8.1 percent tax increase is double the current rate of inflation.
"What are we doing to justify this?" he asked.
Another local resident, Lisa Nancollas questioned the increase as well.
"What is this increase for? I'd like you to tell us," she said.
With that, Board President Mary Lou Sigler reminded everyone of the upcoming forum next week.
"We are having a forum next Thursday," Sigler said. "During that, everything will be laid out. Rather than give you the entire message tonight, I would encourage you to attend. We have held several public budget meetings and hardly anyone attended."
Sigler is referring to an open forum Superintendent James Estep is planning to conduct beginning at 7 p.m. May 29 at the Mifflin County Middle School. During that session, Estep said he will give the public the opportunity to express views and concerns and he will outline how the administration came to the budget proposal the board approved on Thursday.
A vote on the final adoption of the spending plan will take place during the board's June voting meeting.
In other business Thursday, Steve Schaaf, director of elementary education, outlined proposed changes to boundary lines that would allow shifting some students that normally attend Lewistown Elementary School to East Derry Elementary School next school year in an effort to alleviate crowded conditions at LES and take advantage of several open classrooms at East Derry.
"We're looking at changing things a little bit," Schaaf noted.
The plan, Schaaf said, is to move 54 students from LES to East Derry. The plan, with funding included in the 2014-15 proposed budget, is to also add three elementary teachers to reduce class sizes.
Estep said class size, especially in the younger grades, has been a concern for quite awhile.
"At our last budget meeting, we talked about wanting to add two or three teachers next year," Estep said. "The budget you've been presented takes care of those three positions.
"I hate the idea of a nice school like East Derry with empty classrooms and Lewistown Elementary is packed pretty tight. This will help with class sizes as well. The best place for the district to be putting its money is in teaching positions for the kids."
Laughlin expressed displeasure at the prospect of moving kids around and then having the possibility of moving them again in a year or two.
"I have a problem with continuity for the kids," she stated. "Some children adapt better than others. Some do not."
Sigler had a different view.
"We have to look at what's best here for all students," she said. "Is it best to have 20 to 25 kids (in a class) or 20 in it?"
In other business Thursday, the board:
Approved a request from Big Valley Invitational organizers to waive the fee of $25 for use of fields at Indian Valley Elementary School for the annual cross country race on Aug. 30.
Approved a request from the Juniata Valley Football League to waive the fee of $1,000 for the use of Mitchell Field for their annual youth football bowl games and super bowl games to be held in October. The league would still be required to pay the $1,065 for custodial and event staff fees.
Deleted Kirk Sheeder from the custodial substitute list effective May 7.
Approved the resignation of Arlene Simparosa as a part-time cafeteria worker, effective April 29.
Hired Trish Harpster as a part-time cafeteria worker at Lewistown Intermediate School effective May 6.
Hired the following part-time custodians effective May 15: Andrew Stroup, Nicholas Carolus, Timothy Haigh and Timothy Carolus.
Approved a professional services agreement with Reynolds Energy to review the HVAC system at Lewistown Elementary School and make recommendations on a new chiller that is necessary at that facility.
Approved seeking bids for dugouts to be constructed at the high school softball field in order to be in accordance with Title IX regulations.
Approved seeking bids for athletic field irrigation at Mitchell Field, the soccer field, the baseball field and the softball field. After a lengthy discussion on possible costs, the board approved seeking the bids by an 8-1 margin, with Laughlin voting in opposition.
Approved an owner-requested change order to move a gas kettle from Lewistown Elementary School to the junior high school at no cost to the district. However, a cost not to exceed $4,800 would be needed to install a new floor drain to support the relocated kettle.
Approved Sherry Jo Wagner as a substitute van driver.
Approved the resignation of Lisa Rheam, learning support teacher at the junior high school, effective at the end of the current school year for personal reasons.
Approved the following deletions from the substitute teacher list: Rachel Boyd, LaMar Fetterman and Lucinda North.
Approved the resignation of Leah Rothrock, confidential secretary to the director of elementary education and the director of federal programs, effective June 30, due to retirement.
Approved Michelle Schaaf as Blended schools/World Language Institute coordinator for the 2014-15 school year.
Approved a recommendation to appoint the following curriculum coordinators for next school year: Jennifer Macknair, secondary language arts; Clint Aurand, secondary mathematics; Nathan King, secondary science; and Alan Miller, districtwide English as a second language.
Approved the following additions to the substitute teacher list: Courtney Bell, Jennifer Evanitsky, Billi Goss, Marihelen Hower, Tiffany Mistretta, Lauren Nearhoof and Ethan Runk.
The following agenda items had yet to be voted on as of the deadline for this story:
Recommended approval of voluntary consent to demotion of an unnamed employee effective with the 2014-15 school year.
Approval of the following coaches for the 2014-15 school year: Kierstin Walker, assistant cheerleading; Jennifer Johnson, junior high cheerleading; Chelsea Zook, first assistant field hockey; Allan Hepner, first assistant football; Charles Douglas, assistant football; Brian Heckert, assistant football; Steven Himes, assistant football; Lewis Yoder, assistant football; Joseph Eckenroth, head junior high football; Christian Hassinger, assistant junior high football; William Snook, assistant junior high football; Joab Carter, first assistant boys soccer; Alan Miller, junior high boys soccer; Jeremy Herwig, first assistant girls soccer; Carolyn Kline, junior high girls soccer; Jessica Smith, first assistant volleyball; and Andrea Appel, head junior high volleyball.
Approval of the following volunteer coaches for the 2014-15 school year: Steven Poche, Vince Inzerillo, Tyler Fink, Travis Bunch, Joshua Grimes, and Harvey Smith, football; Shari Miller, Jeffrey Miller and Deanna Russler, cross country; Roy Bucher, volleyball; and Christian Knouse, boys soccer.
Approval of the extension of the agreement for human resource services to be provided by Kathy McCool for the time period from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015.