District will reveal prelim budget April 27

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Some districts have been vocal about cuts they could be looking at in the face of Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed 2011-12 budget, but the Punxsutawney Area School Board — and the public — will get its first full look at the district’s preliminary budget during its committee meeting April 27.

Monday, Business Administrator Susan Robertson told board members that she had provided them with reports of where the district’s budget progress stood as of that afternoon. She said she and Superintendent Dr. Keith Wolfe would continue to make changes and “cuts that we think we can.”

While areas that face cuts have not yet been revealed, the board will certainly look at areas and have to decide if it wish to dip into its fund balance — around $14 million, Robertson said — to plug any holes that cuts may create.

Often referred to as the district’s “rainy day fund,” Wolfe said about the fund balance and budget scenarios across the state, “Guess what? It’s raining.”

Robertson said the fund balance is sustained by controlling expenditures and keeping in line with the district’s revenues. This year, the district must figure out how to do just that with decreased revenues.
She noted, however, that the 2011-12 budget will not be the first time the Punxsy district faces this challenge.

“This is not a one-year problem,” she said. “We need to look at the bigger picture.”

Part of the bigger picture is that money the district was receiving over the past few years is simply not coming this year.

An Accountability Block Grant enabled the district to offer full-day kindergarten over the last three years. That grant will not be available this year, and thus, the district must look at its options for kindergarten: Keeping it the same — funding all-day kindergarten through another source — reducing it to half-day or eliminating it all together, which is a distinct reality in other districts.

Funds through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — stimulus funds — are also on their way out. Robertson said the district used stimulus funds for program such as Title and autistic classrooms.

Another part of looking at the big picture is examining how the district spends its money. Wolfe said there have already been some cuts made in the face of Corbett’s proposed budget, but he also said the district look at cycles of how it replaces or maintains certain functions, likening it to purchasing textbooks within a cycle: One year, the district may replace math books one year, science books another.

“We need to do that with other area, creating cycles, especially with facilities,” he said.

The stories from other districts are similar, Wolfe said: One district may be looking at cutting all junior-high athletics, or music, art, physical education and home economic. Another may look at discontinuing driver’s education.

“It’s not just Punxsy; the entire system is being hit hard,” he said. “I’ve talked to superintendents who are cutting kindergarten all together.”

He said another superintendent with a 40-year career summed up this budget year by saying, “It’s the most difficult budget I’ve ever had to do.”