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School Board Votes to Save $13.6 Million on High School Project

by on January 27, 2015 7:05 AM

The State College Are School District Board overwhelmingly voted to save taxpayers money during its Monday meeting.

The board decided on a debt financing plan that will bankroll the high school construction project, opting for a 25-year plan that costs $13.6 million less than the alternative 30-year plan.

The 25-year term will cost about $85 million that the district will borrow during a February to March window, funding the majority of the $115 million high school renovation, which residents approved in a referendum vote last year.

During initial discussion on the 30-year plan, board member Jim Pawelczyk moved to amend the motion to the 25-year plan.

“We have made a decision to triple the debt service of this school district. Now we are in a position of paying that,” he says. “The decision we make tonight is the single best way for us to reduce the overall cost to the taxpayers. I’m pretty sure that this notion of flexibility is not going to be shared with the school board of 2040 when they have an additional five years of payment that’s entirely unnecessary.”

When Pawelczyk mentioned flexibility, he was referring to board member Scott Fozard’s argument that the 30-year plan would allow the district “perceived and virtual flexibility” when it comes to repaying the loan.

“If we were just looking at one project, I would 100 percent agree and I would probably be pushing for 20 years, but because we have innumerable projects stacking up behind this, the 30-year term gives us the most flexibility in the actual funding of the district,” Fozard says.

The board members were markedly split when discussing the two options. Board president Amber Concepcion voiced support for the 25-year financing term, explaining that it saves taxpayers $15 per year. 

“I’m pretty sure that this notion of flexibility is not going to be shared with the school board of 2040 when they have an additional five years of payment that’s entirely unnecessary,” Pawelczyk says.

Board member Ann McGlaughlin, who was admittedly neutral on the two plans originally, shared similar concerns when it came to the longer financing plan. She says that the additional cost that would come with an additional five years wasn’t worth it.

“The most compelling argument between the terms is that the five years of flexibility comes at a cost of $13.6 million,” she says. “To me, it sounds like we’re just trying to make room to raise taxes more in the future.”

The board voted 5-4 in favor of the amendment before voting 8-1 in favor of the 25-year plan, with Penni Fishbaine as the lone dissenter.

The board also heard a presentation from school district principal Scott DeShong on his recommendation to move to a block class scheduling system. The proposed system, which was devised by a 16-person committee led by DeShong, would consist of two alternating A and B class days, each consisting of four 90-minute classes. Among many reasons, DeShong emphasized the logistical benefits on curbing the number of times per day that students transition between the North and South Buildings.

The board continued discussing its proposed preliminary budget for the 2015-2016 academic year, which was approved 8-1 at a special meeting last Monday. There were no noteworthy changes or discussion items on the preliminary budget, which includes a 6.1 percent tax increase, 4.2 percent of which can be accounted for by the referendum payment on the high school project. With rising interest rates, the tax increase will likely top the 6.1 percent estimate.

The board amended a parking agreement for the Welch Community Swimming Pool and unanimously approved renovations of the former Panorama Elementary School. It also unanimously approved a bid by Sebesta Inc. to manage energy efficiency within the new high school.

At the start of the meeting before the important business got underway, the board allowed high school and middle school student leaders to speak as part of School Director Recognition Month. Student council presidents lauded the board before Penn State president and former district board member Eric Barron called in.

“Education is the business of the State College area, and none of us can be successful if you’re not successful, and all of us truly appreciate the fact that we have school board members who are willing to put out that time and energy,” Barron says.

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Zach Berger is the managing editor of StateCollege.com. He graduated from Penn State University in 2014 with a degree in print journalism. Zach enjoys writing about a variety of topics ranging from football to government, music, and everything in between.
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