School district may have to use fund balance for budget

PUNXSUTAWNEY — The Punxsutawney Area School Board held a budget workshop Monday to discuss possible budget cuts in order to save money in the next year’s budget.

Instead of cuts, the board learned from Business Manager Susan Robertson that the district will possibly have to dip into its fund balance in order to finish the school year with a balanced budget, saying projections for expenses this year will probably outweigh the revenue.
She said how much to move from the fund balance depends on what happens between now and the end of the fiscal year.

“There will not be extra revenue this year; the district will be close to breaking even and will have to use some fund balance this year,” Robertson said.

She said the fund balance to start the school year was about $15 million.
“Last year, when we did the 2011-12 budget, we committed part of that to balancing the budget this year,” Robertson said.

“Coming into the start of the budget year, we have over $9 million to use for fund balance budgeting purposes,” she said.

She said the administration hopes to bring in $34.5 million and keep expenses below that amount.

“We’ll probably be in the $34.5 to 34.8 million in expenses and only use $200,000 of fund balance if we have to at all,” she said, noting that the new teachers’ contract hasn’t been settled, so the budget doesn’t reflect any pay raises at this time.

Meanwhile, board President Gary Conrad said it was disappointing that no one from the public attended Monday’s budget workshop, although the board received an e-mail with a suggestion.

The board discussed suggested areas to make cuts, but came away with nothing.

• All-day kindergarten — Following a lengthy discussion, members talked about reducing it to every other day, or half-day, which would reduce the number of teachers by four.

But the board felt it was not a good idea to cut, because kindergarten has become more important than it used to be, as students must know how to read and write before first grade.

• Athletics — Athletic Director Bill Vasello said athletics counts for only two percent of the district’s annual budget.

The only real savings would come from cutting football, he said, which is the most expensive sport to operate.

The board asked for further information about reducing the number of ticket-takers; increasing the prices at the gate; and requiring district employees to pay some kind of admission fee for events.

• The training table for football players during summer camp — The board voted 5-4 against eliminating the training table.

• Other areas discussed: Behind-the-Wheel; changing the textbook rotation; possibly not leasing 200 more computers for the high school; having the technology coach begin transitioning back into the classroom next year; employee flu shots; and art teachers.

Possible revenue streams include drilling for natural gas on district properties to eliminate heating bills and possibly requiring PAHS students to pay to park or instead ride the bus.

Conrad thanked the faculty, administration and board members for taking time to discuss the budget.

“Unfortunately, there was no one from the public who came in to offer suggestions,” he said, adding that the workshop was advertised.

“Education is a top priority with the board and the administration, and I want to keep that in mind; it’s my top priority also,” Conrad said. “The board made no tough decisions here tonight. You can’t run a business without making tough decisions.”

Board Vice-President Francis Molinaro said the board doesn’t want to raise taxes, and Monday’s workshop was not held to cut anyone’s job.