Central Cambria expects to break even

EBENSBURG – Central Cambria School District expects to break even next school year – without raising taxes or dipping into a nearly $11 million reserve – but with a teachers’ contract still in negotiation, a major part of the district’s budget, and nearly 70 percent of its expenses, remain uncertain.

Superintendent Vincent DiLeo said district and teacher representatives met earlier in the month to discuss a Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board fact finder’s report.

A fact finder was appointed in June 2013 after 18 months of negotiations failed to yield a compromise. The teachers have been working without a contract since June 2012, DiLeo said.

The report called for a compromise on health care coverage, retirement incentives and salary increases.

The union rejected the report in July 2013, but DiLeo said the district offered two weeks ago to accept a new union-proposed salary schedule, which, he said, would make Central Cambria teachers among the highest paid in the intermediate unit, which includes Blair, Cambria, Bedford and Somerset counties.

In exchange, the union would have to accept the rest of the fact finder’s report, which included phasing out retiree health care and would require teachers to contribute $20 monthly toward their health care premiums for single coverage or $40 for a family plan.

The school board learned on Monday that the union rejected the offer. Union officials were unavailable for comment.

DiLeo said had the teachers accepted the newly structured pay scale, they would’ve had the fifth-highest starting salaries in the intermediate unit at $42,000 at the end of their contract – behind only Tyrone, Altoona Area, Greater Johnstown and Westmont.

DiLeo said school officials want to keep meeting with teachers’ representatives to “continue to bargain in good faith,” but some of the union demands – such as a $25,000 retirement bonus in exchange for phasing out retiree health care by 2018 – were unacceptable, he said.

With district contributions toward the Public School Employees’ Retirement System set to top 30 percent by the 2017-18 school year and medical costs going up 10 percent next year alone, DiLeo said continuing to fund 100 percent of health care and retiree health care was untenable.

The district was asking for a 2.3 percent contribution under the fact finder’s report; the average person pays between 22 and 24 percent of their premiums, he said.

The union had pushed a $10 per month contribution for an individual and $20 per month for a family.

Data also show a 10 percent enrollment decline over the last six years, accompanied by major increased costs for cyber charter school and special education – all while state and federal contributions have remained almost flat and, in some cases, decreased.

Next year’s budget has planned cuts in most areas, including for professional and technical services, property maintenance and supplies.

The district has some wiggle room to make more cuts if contract negotiations result in higher-than-planned salary expenses, DiLeo said, but it would be tough.

“There’s a little bit of wiggle room, but not a lot,” he said. “We’ve cut to the bone here. We really have.”