By Olivia Ceccarelli, Staff Writer
At the February 10 Avon Grove School District school board meeting, Superintendent Dr. Gus Massaro announced that the board and administrators will be working to develop the $3.6 million worth of reductions deemed necessary for the upcoming budget. With changes in state government, the school district could be facing significant cuts in funding. Such cuts could raise taxes for district residents for the second year in a row.
“Depending on what the state budget is, [reductions] may even turn out to be more than that,” said Massaro in his superintendent’s report. “And time will tell what the new governor has in plan for us here at Avon Grove regarding basic education subsidies,” he continued.
Republican Tom Corbett, voted into the Pennsylvania governorship this past November, is feared to take an aggressive approach to reducing state spending that may severely hurt education. This differs from former Gov. Ed Rendell, who worked to increase the percentage of the state budget allotted for school funding.
Massaro defended the school board’s potential decision to raise taxes, citing that this will be only the second time in eight years. He stressed, “We’re not insulated from the U.S. economy.”
At the meeting, the board approved of the preliminary budget, for the amount of $78,656,802. The approval is the first formal stage in the budget process. The preliminary budget will be considered in April, and the final will be voted on in May or June.
According to the district Web site, for tax year 2010-2011, the district raised the millage rate by .9 mills. During the meeting, the board authorized to file requests for several Act 1 exceptions from the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) to help fund special education programs and contributions to the school employee retirement system. If PDE approves the exceptions, and if the board finds it necessary to balancing the budget, the board can consider raising real estate taxes above the District’s Act 1 adjusted index limit of 1.8 percent. With the PDE-approved exceptions, the maximum potential tax increase the board could consider is 5.7 percent.
Every year, PDE comes out with the Act 1 index, determining by how much a school district can raise taxes based on district cost of living calculations. A tax increase above the allowable 1.8 percent would have to be approved by voter referendum. As of now, the board is not proposing a specific tax increase, and Massaro is confident that the district will be able to balance the budget without putting the question to referendum.
The preliminary budget and all related information are available online, at the district’s Web site under “Newsroom”.
Massaro and the board urged public participation during the budgeting process. “We welcome everyone’s input,” noting that there is a form online where concerned residents, teachers, students, and administration can offer suggestions. “If anybody has any wonderful ideas about revenue enhancements, reductions, now’s the time,” he continued. “I read them, all the school board members read them, the administrators read them, and we encourage your feedback.” The form can be reached by clicking the green button on the school district’s home page (www.avongrove.org) and on all of the schools’ main pages. The board also encouraged public attendance of all school board and finance meetings, where the board will delve even deeper into determining the budget for the forthcoming tax year.
Additionally, the public may contribute to the decision on the calendar to make up for snow days. There are currently two options: one adding make-up days in June, and another adding days during Spring Break and then into June. There is a survey available online, also on the home page.
Intermediate School PTA President Leslie Erb-Wallace applauded the board for allowing online public participation, but emphasized that more should be done to improve communications between the district and district residents, parents, and students.
“Thank you for listening to us last week, for giving us two great choices for the calendar,” Erb-Wallace said. Yet she continued, “The one thing I would encourage you guys to do is […] think about using our Edulink system for things like this and letting people know.” To the PTA, the district’s movement toward using less paper notices challenges the circulation of important district news like calendar changes and budget meetings. The Edulink calling system, notifying parents and teachers of emergency district happenings like school closings, may be a viable alternative. “It might be a good use of that system.”
Massaro observed that while Edulink is a good option for those with children involved in the school system, it may not work well for district residents without children in Avon Grove schools who lack access to this calling service.
In other news, all plans are moving forward for the West Grove Garage Community and Youth Center. The original Garage has improved the lives of at-risk youth in Kennett since 1999, providing a safe environment for students to do homework, receive mentoring and tutoring, socialize with friends, and build positive relationships with folks of all ages. More than 200 students pass through each week, and 100 students from the Avon Grove School District have already benefited from Garage programs. Garage staff will be working on transforming their space on Rose Hill Avenue this spring. Potential volunteers should consider contacting the Garage.