Spring Cove raises taxes

ROARING SPRING – After a debate that led to some far-fetched financial proposals, the Spring Cove School Board agreed Monday in a pair of 6-3 votes to raise property taxes 3.4 percent, hire four new teachers and transfer millions of dollars toward future building upgrades.

The 2014-15 budget votes followed a lengthy discussion on the district’s options as it faces ballooning pension costs and the looming specter of expensive construction work. The tax hike would raise taxes just over $42 for the average property owner, administrators said.

The inclusion of four new teachers, three at the elementary level, drew discussion as some on the board complained of a mounting tax burden.

“There are kids who are struggling who are going to be asked to struggle even more,” board member Jennifer Murnyack-Garner said of the large class sizes and tough standardized tests students would face without extra teachers.

While the final tax hike was less than Superintendent Robert Vadella’s prior recommendations, the budget includes $450,000 for their multimillion-dollar, long-term cash reserves – of which $2.5 million is to be set aside for “capital projects,” or district infrastructure, in the coming year.

A tax increase was widely expected since winter, when the board agreed to seek a possible increase higher than the state-imposed maximum. Rising pension expenses are contributing to a year-after-year budget crunch, Vadella has said.

“At some point you have to raise revenue because expenses do go up every year,” he said.

Some on the board took a chance to vent their frustrations – whether at the state Legislature, politics in Washington, D.C., or the pensions themselves.

“If you’re taking from one person to benefit other people, like with the pension, that’s slavery,” board member Kevin Warner said. Warner voted for both the budget and the tax shift.

The financial picture for 2014-15 wasn’t as grim as last year’s when the board furloughed teachers amid widespread debate. Almost no guests appeared at Monday’s meeting – a far cry from last summer, when scores spoke out in packed gatherings.

But, while the district is set to move forward with new teachers a year before it’s slated to reorganize grade levels and introduce new programs, some on the board proposed long-term solutions to problems over the horizon.

Complaining of the cost of district infrastructure and citing Spring Cove’s distribution of laptop computers to students in several grades, member James Smith suggested a move away from brick-and-mortar education – something others on the board skeptically described as total cyber-schooling.

“I think that kind of discussion needs to take place,” Smith said.

Fellow board member Mary Smith agreed, arguing: “We’re going to have 18-year-olds, 17-year-olds in a daycare facility. We’re not going to have a traditional education system anymore.”

Few others warmed to the idea, and in the end, six voted for the budget with the Smiths and Willard J. Thompson opposed.

Coming a week after students and parents complained of overfilled classes at some grade levels and a year before they shift students among buildings to more equally distribute spending, the budget seeks to set aside money for long-term work while investing in teachers now.

“The dollar amount, I appreciate that,” Murnyack-Garner said. “But we have to remember that we’re addressing the future.”

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.