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State College Schools Facing 'Very, Very Tough Year,' Board Vice President Says

on September 28, 2010 8:22 AM

The message was clear Monday night:

The State College Area School District has another rough budget year ahead for 2011-2012, marked with fiscal uncertainty and likely expense cuts.

"It's going to be a very, very tough year," school-board Vice President Jim Pawelczyk said, speaking at the board's regular meeting. He said the economic challenges hobbling growth in the private sector are reaching the public sector with more force.

District Business Administrator Jeff Ammerman, presenting the board with preliminary information about the 2011-2012 district budget, echoed the sentiment.

Preliminarily, he said, the state has set the district's tax-increase cap at 1.4 percent for the 2011-2012 year. That's less than half the 2.9 percent increased allowed for the current year, though Ammerman said the district may be able to obtain an exemption from the 2011-2012 cap.

Other challenges for the district in '11-'12 include the likely evaporation of hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal stimulus funds, Ammerman said. Another uncertain factor, he said, is the district's contribution to the Public School Employees' Retirement System.

Ammerman said the district should have more clarity by mid-January, when the board is expected to adopt a preliminary budget for the next school year. In the meantime, the district Citizens Advisory Committee for Finances has recommended that a cost-control task force reconvene and examine dozens upon dozens of cost-cutting measures undertaken in other parts of Pennsylvania.

"We want people to know that we have challenges, that we're working hard, that we're considering all things," board President Ann McGlaughlin said at the Monday meeting.

As committee members begin preliminary conversations, Ammerman said, it will be helpful for the highest levels of district leadership to provide guidance on the schools' top fiscal priorities. More board discussions about the matter are anticipated in the coming weeks.

Already, for the current school year, the district trimmed more than $3 million in expenses. About 18 positions were lost to attrition, some transportation routes were modified, and a variety of other measures were undertaken to achieve that savings.

In other news Monday night:

  • The board approved a strategic plan for submission to the state Department of Education. The plan indicates, among other things, that the district will move toward providing each student with his or her own computer -- for educational purposes -- over the next three years. Overall costs for the concept are expected to run in the range of $1.2 million. Board members agreed that the district will pursue the goal with an eye to financial limits and with a focus on relevant research and "deliberative evaluation."

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