At a three-hour meeting before a packed audience on Monday, Seneca Valley Superintendent Dr. Donald Tylinski took a page from his days as an elementary school teacher and passed out rolls of color-coded tags to school board members.
Each tag represented a suggested cut to a program, an idea, or a plan to deal with the for the 2011-12 school year after extensive cuts to state education funding.
Tylinski encouraged the board to study the tags closely before choosing programs to keep and to cut.
“We have some very hard decisions to make,” he said.
While district business manager Lynn Burtner said the governor actually increased overall state education funding, schools across the commonwealth also are set to lose the federal economic stimulus money they have come to rely on, as well as Accountability Block Grant money.
The cuts would bring state funding back to 2004-05 levels, according to Burtner, and would strip the Seneca Valley school district of $2.19 million in one year.
While the tags – which added up to $10.325 million in savings – presented to the board by Tylinski are still options, other measures to deal with the district’s $10 million shortfall already are in place.
The superintendent said Seneca’s administration staff of 49 has agreed to a pay freeze. The move, Tylinski said, should save the district $181,000.
Board member Joseph Scalamogna, who already has spoken to some educators, was hopeful teachers would do the same.
“No one has said no,” he said. ‘They said they would be willing to do so if the administration did.”
To that end, the board unanimously discussed approaching the Seneca Valley Education Association to ask its members to accept a voluntary one-year pay freeze. In September, district officials gave final approval to a five-year, early-bird contract for teachers.
Teachers Depart the District
Tylinski said 36 teachers have opted to accept an early-retirement incentive approved by the board last week. With emotion in his voice, he read off the names of those longtime teachers, who will not be replaced. Two administrators – including Director of Transportation Kevin Prady – and three of the district’s classified employees also accepted early retirement.
“As the superintendent of the district and as a friend, I know we are losing years and years of experience and dedication to children,” he said. “Many of them came to my office with tears in their eyes.”
The retirement incentive should save the district $2.88 million. Early retirement by some of the district’s support personnel could save the district an additional $218,000.
Marcellus Shale and Other Cuts
Another tag distributed by the superintendent involved the possibility of drilling for Marcellus Shale gas on the 142-acre property the district owns on Ehrman Road, which spans Cranberry and Jackson townships.
Burtner said the district bought the land for $4.5 million in 2002 and considered using it for new buildings after a predicted spike in school population. District officials have never formally voted on plans for the property, said Linda Andreassi, the district’s director of communications.
The district also is looking to sell property it owns behind the school’s Jackson Township campus. That land is valued at $30,000, according to Tylinski.
Other options include cutting parts of the business education and family and consumer sciences programs, and eliminating the Junior Reserves Officers Training Corps program, the seventh-grade football team, and the cross-country team and the track and field programs for seventh- and eighth-graders.
As they did at last week’s workshop meeting, many JROTC members and their parents asked board members to spare the program. Diane White, president of the Zelienople Lions Club, praised the military-based organization’s volunteer work, including picking up discarded Christmas trees after the holiday season ends.
‘These students perform a great community service every year and they ask for nothing return,” she said.
Rick Weber, a parent of a JROTC student, asked the board to hire a second instructor, which is required by the U.S. Army to continue the program. If a second instructor is not hired, he said, the Army would disband the program, which has been part of the district for 40 years.
The military, he added, pays half of the salary costs for an instructor and also would pay for the instructor’s health care.
Coaches and students also spoke in support of the seventh-and-eighth-grade school’s cross-country and track-and-field programs.
Emily Clark, a freshman who began running three years ago, said cutting the program would jeopardize the future of the varsity team because students would not be interested when they reach high school. She said being on the team has taught her discipline and leadership.
“I met some of my best friends through the cross-country and track programs,” she said.
Press Box No Longer on the Table
The board also chose not to move forward with plans for a new press box at NexTier Stadium. The district had $1.25 million in bond money earmarked for the press box and other projects. Officials said the money must be used for capital improvements and cannot be used to augment the district's operating budget.
The current press box, which some have called a safety hazard, is more than 20 years old.
“If someone falls through it, they fall through it," Tylinski said. “We’ll just have to keep fixing the floor.”
Officials also unanimously voted against passing a $4.34 million budget presented by the Butler County Area Vocational Technical School for the 2011-12 school year.
Addressing the crowd before him, board president Robert Hill Jr. said school officials have not been irresponsible in planning the district's future. He encouraged everyone to contact state representatives to protest the planned cuts to education funding.
The lawmakers' names and addresses, he said, would be placed prominently on the district’s website.