Preliminary Spring Cove budget has tax hikes, job cuts

ROARING SPRING – The Spring Cove school board voted 6-3 Monday for a preliminary 2013-14 budget that introduces two new programs, raises property taxes and cuts up to four administrative and teaching positions.

The vote came after a long evening of deliberation in which board members lamented the district’s financial troubles.

The $22.4 million budget, which can be changed before the June 30 deadline, represents the culmination of weeks of often-secretive planning by administrators and board members who sought to close a $1 million deficit.

The plan raises property taxes the maximum level permitted under state law from 110.865 mills to 113.414 mills. The proposed level would mean $11.34 in taxes per $100 of assessed value, representing an increase of $25 annually for the average taxpayer, board members said.

After the Monday meeting, Business Manager John Clark provided few details on specific job cuts, noting that those set for furloughs haven’t been notified. He said, however, that the cuts include administrative and teaching staff.

Job cuts, administrative changes and the proposed tax hike eliminate hundreds of thousands of dollars from next year’s deficit, budget forms provided to board members indicate.

But additional cuts – including 10 percent across the board to sports and $15,000 from the annual high school musical – are needed to close the gap.

The budget presentation didn’t bring all bad news. Included in the proposal is a new science-technology-engineering-math program – at the cost of $65,181 for a teacher board members hailed as a grant-acquisition expert – and a “one-to-one” technology system that would provide each student in grades seven to 12 with a personal computer.

Board members seemed wary to discuss details of the budget proposal during the meeting. Even after a lengthy discussion that took up much of the nearly two-hour session, audience members quietly asked each other what was to be cut.

They received no answers that night.

“I don’t want to put up a chart with all these scary scenarios, because that would create animosity, which we already have enough of,” Superintendent Robert Vadella told the board.

Instead, details will be released when the proposed budget is posted online within 10 days, Clark said.

At least some seemed happy to see that the cuts didn’t run as deep as they could have.

“Yeah, there’s some tough numbers in here, but I don’t see anything that it says we’re eliminating in its entirety,” board member Charlene Dodson said.

The budget includes the final version of an administrative shake-up Vadella had mentioned in recent weeks. The assistant high school principal position is to be replaced by a new job, “assistant principal for pupil personnel,” while the athletic director is set to take up an additional title: dean of students.

Vadella prefaced the vote with a stark presentation on the district’s budgetary future. Without trimming this year, he said, the combined weight of retirement costs, salary increases and health care expenses could sink the district soon.

Board members complained of the long decline in state funding and the restrictions placed on tax increases. Some said the added tax burden could hurt landowners and businesses.

“I see this as oppressive,” said J. Willard Thompson, who floated a four-day school week idea to little response.

When the time came to vote, member Julie Mills jokingly placed her head on the table, unable to decide.

“I’m really struggling with this one,” she said.

In the end, Mills was one of six on the board to vote in favor of the preliminary budget. Thompson, J. Samuel Dean and board President Jeff Brennecke voted no.

Despite the new programs, few on the board seemed satisfied with the prospect of simultaneously raising taxes and eliminating jobs.

“Once I finalized the numbers,” Vadella said, “I was in a funk all afternoon.”

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.