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SCASD Board Accepts Mextorf's Resignation, Discusses Budget Concerns

on December 07, 2010 8:20 AM

With no fanfare and a subdued tone, the State College school board voted unanimously Monday night to accept the resignation of Superintendent Richard J. Mextorf -- effective retroactively on Dec. 2.

Just one non-board-member resident -- Peter Schempf, of Harris Township -- addressed the board on the subject, asking when members learned of a reported DUI case that involved Mextorf on Nov. 18. (Board solicitor Scott Etter supplied the answer: Nov. 19.)

Schempf also wanted to know if fired employees are treated differently from those who resign, at least in terms of pay and benefits. (Etter referred him to another agency for that information -- not the school board.)

Beyond that exchange, though, board members made no comments Monday night about Mextorf's departure. They did not say why he resigned. They did not speak about his tenure as superintendent or about the charges he faces in Clinton County.

Rather, they quickly named the assistant superintendent, Michael Hardy, to the acting-superintendent role for the time being.

Mextorf, 48, of Port Matilda, did not appear to be in the administration building for the Monday school-board meeting, the first such gathering since news of his DUI case broke last week. On Saturday, Mextorf issued his letter of resignation, addressed to board President Ann McGlaughlin.

In an e-mail message to StateCollege.com the same day, Mextorf indicated that "the decision" -- meaning his resignation -- "was mutual."

A Penn State graduate, he became State College superintendent in July 2009. He succeeded the retiring Patricia Best and arrived from Lycoming County, where he had been superintendent of the Loyalsock Township School District.

The State College Area School District will conduct a thorough search for a new superintendent and wants to have a new one seated before the next school year begins, the district has indicated. Hardy's adjusted salary has yet to be determined.

Board members on Monday spent much more time addressing the district's upcoming budget discussions.

Jeffrey Ammerman, the district business administrator, reviewed a variety of preliminary fiscal scenarios for the 2011-2012 school year. Any way you look at it, he said, the district is likely to face a budget shortfall of at least $3 million and, as a result, needs to review cost-cutting options.

About $3 million is equal to nearly three percent of the district's expenses for 2010-2011. Ammerman said the district will need to review the funding of minor capital projects, retirement-funding strategies and other major expenses. Key collective-bargaining arrangements in the district are up for renewal this year.

Several board members appeared to indicate that the tough financial circumstances may lead to sizable impacts on the district workforce. Personnel expenses account for about 70 percent of district expenses.

"Last year, as hard as it was, was easy," Ammerman said. "This is going to be much harder" and involve a greater degree of change in 2011-2012.

For the current school year, the board already eliminated about $3 million in expenses, losing 18 positions to attrition, modifying transportation routes and undertaking other changes. It also created a $50 fee for in-car driver education. The district may want to look at other programming-fee options for 2011-2012, Ammerman said.

He also said the district may want to review its administrative structure, as well as programs that may have a relative lack of student interest or applicability in the 21st century.

Board Vice President Jim Pawelczyk said that the board, in making budget decisions, will need to look "really, really hard at what are those essential functions to maintain for the 21st century." Savings from attrition won't be sufficient to stretch the budget in 2011-2012, he projected.

"I definitely think we need to be extremely proactive in starting these conversations with the community very early on," said Dorothea Stahl, another board member. " ... I think it's very important, from our standpoint, to make sure that this conversation is not just at the board table."

Ammerman underscored projections that the budget pressure is not likely to be a short-term matter; rather, he said, it's likely to last perhaps a decade, and so the district will need to weigh structural changes in how it manages and spends its limited funds. Some changes, Ammerman said, "are potentially going to be unpopular."

"But the facts are the facts, and we have to deal with them," he said.

Those facts include state-imposed limits on tax increases; slow growth in the assessed value of local real estate; dramatically increasing health-insurance and retirement costs; and a potential payout in the $10 million range to the Royal Bank of Canada, with which the district has a controversial rate-swap arrangement. (The board, through litigation, is attempting to escape that arrangement and dull any financial impacts.)

"Everything has to be reviewed," McGlaughlin said of district expenses. She said the district will need to choose areas of operations that may endure cuts.

The board is expected to meet with Ammerman soon to talk in more detail, with more specificity, about how the 2011-2012 budget may materialize.

By Jan. 27, the board will need to decide whether it will stick to a 1.4-percent tax increase for 2011-2012; that's the standard limit imposed by the state for the year. The district may attempt to seek state budgetary exemptions from that limit to pursue a tax increase of as much as four percent.

Any increases above the four-percent level would need to be approved through a voter referendum.

A preliminary budget is expected to be prepared this winter, with finalization anticipated by early summer.

In other news at the Monday board proceedings:

  • The board recognized district athletic director Ron Pavlechko, who is on the cusp of retirement after a 40-year career with the district. He joined the high school in 1971 as an English teacher and football coach. In 1996, he became the athletic director. McGlaughlin thanked Pavlechko for his "tireless commitment" to students and the district.
  • The board heard an update about the district's private fundraising efforts. Donors may soon see specific naming opportunities for facilities at the renovated Ferguson Township Elementary School, the new Mount Nittany Elementary School and the to-be-renovated Memorial Field. Meanwhile, the market value of the district's privately raised funds is nearly $3 million, development specialist Karen Burke-Crawford reported.
  • The board voted unanimously to retain McGlaughlin as board president and Pawelczyk as vice president in 2011.

Earlier coverage

 

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