With deep cuts to the state’s education budget predicted for 2011-12, the Seneca Valley School District faces a potential $10 million deficit for next year.
The announcement cast a pall over Monday’s Seneca Valley School Board meeting as officials listed the expenditure cutbacks under consideration.
“This is not painless, it is painful,” Superintendent Dr. Donald J. Tylinski said. “I want the board to know we are up against the wall and this is a very serious matter. This is uncharted territory for all of us.”
Many people associated with the Junior Reserves Officers Training Corps -- one of the programs at risk -- as well as a past superintendent and a former school board member spoke out about the potential cuts in the packed and sometimes tense room.
Tylinski began the meeting by noting the grave situation facing all schools in Pennsylvania this year. When Gov. Tom Corbett presents his budget today, it is expected to include cuts to education funding.
Tylinski gave the board a long list of expenditures that, if cut, would balance the budget. That included the disbandment of the JROTC program, which Tylinski said would save the district $50,000.
The move was not popular with JROTC members, who spoke in support of the military-based leadership program. Many of Seneca Valley's JROTC students, dressed in their cadet uniforms, also attended the meeting.
Because of the number of speakers -- 18 -- the board had to approve extra time for public comment, which board policy usually limits to 30 minutes.
“We are here until everyone has their four minutes,” board president Robert Hill said, drawing applause from the crowd.
Oliver Cashdollar, a former Seneca Valley superintendent who launched the school's JROTC program more than 40 years ago, said it was the first created east of the Mississippi. The Evans City resident retired from the district in 1982.
Cashdollar and other speakers also noted that it was the longest-running JROTC program in the eastern United States. Cashdollar touted many benefits the program has brought to the district.
“In the past, they have brought in more scholarship money than all of the other programs combined,” he said.
One by one, cadets -- former and current -- and their parents marched to the podium to tell the board how JROTC impacted their lives.
Cathleen Erb of Cranberry told the board participating in the program helped her 16-year-old son overcome difficulties created by Asperger’s disorder.
“I’m not some group. I don’t represent anyone but my children,” she said. “As a mom, I can tell you he’s never been engaged until JROTC. When he puts his uniform on, he stands tall and looks people in the eye. If you know anything about Asperger’s, you know they don’t look people in the eye too often.”
Kenneth Brennan, who served on the school board for 14 years until last year, criticized the board for last year’s early settlement of the teachers' contract, saying that money could have been used to save programs the school is now looking to drop.
“You had to have known cuts were coming,” Brennan said. “You increased the disparity in income between the teachers and the taxpayers and now the community is suffering for it. I’m not against teachers getting a raise, but the raise at that time was in excess of what should have been afforded them.”
Hill, noting Brennan’s words carried more weight because of his status as a former board member, told the crowd to compare that contract with proposed terms being negotiated now by other school districts.
“I would encourage you all to go to the newspapers and look around before you decide that this board acted in haste,” he said.
During a question-and-answer period for school board members and Tylinski, the superintendent made it clear the proposed cuts are a starting point. He said the administration welcomes input from the board on potential changes to his list.
He repeatedly described the proposed cutbacks as “choices” the board may make to balance the budget, but other programs may be substituted to save something else.
Other activities currently on the chopping block are the seventh-grade football team, the seventh- and eighth-grade cross country and track and field teams, and intramural programs for kindergarten through eighth grade.
Tylinski said the administration also is looking to furlough employees across the district. Additional savings would be gained by not filling positions as employees leave. Tylinski said the school district is looking to save about $2 million through its early-retirement programs.
To that end, the board unanimously passed an early-retirement incentive program for custodians and secretaries.
In addition to the cuts, Tylinski said the school is looking to increase the participation fee for athletics from $5 to $35. The price of a parking permit at the high school may rise from $35 to $60. A fee for participating in nonathletic extracurricular groups also was proposed.
Tylinski said additional details would be provided in the weeks ahead, starting at next Monday’s regular board meeting.