CLAYSBURG - In a 5-3 vote Wednesday, the Claysburg-Kimmel school board approved a 2013-14 budget that requires five teacher furloughs, a property tax increase and a dip into the district's fund balance.
The evening meeting drew dozens of onlookers - including some of the five affected teachers - forcing board members to open a walled-off room section to accommodate the extra spectators.
Addressing board members before their vote, teachers' union President Matt Hall pleaded with school directors to spend more reserve funds and save the five furloughed positions.
They are "five people who can keep providing for their families. Five people who can continue pouring their hearts and souls into this school," Hall said. "Give them one last chance."
The $10.7 million budget cuts into programs like business, technical education and computer technology, as well as autistic and emotional support. Property owners in the district face a 2.5 percent tax increase, the maximum Claysburg-Kimmel is permitted by law.
While a deeper cut into the district's reserve funds could save at least some of the positions, administrators have said the $2.5 million account balance will likely be needed in coming years as retirement costs shoot skyward.
Still, some board members suggested keeping the teachers is worth the risk.
"I'm hoping that those who are voting really think about this," board member Jeff Dugan of Imler said. "We're losing some of the best teachers in Blair and Bedford counties."
Several on the board directly blamed Gov. Tom Corbett and the state Legislature for passing the buck down to schools, cutting funds despite continued furloughs.
"We've got to take a stand. People have got to start voting," Dugan said.
Dugan, along with members Denny Cowher and Jeremy Knott, voted against the budget.
Knott said that, at the rate board members are cutting programs, they'll have little left to offer students in a few years.
"This isn't just for right now. The impact is on the education system, on the students, for years to come," Knott said.
Hall said there's hope for some of the furloughed teachers to return, depending on the shape of the final state budget. A similar furlough plan last year ended with the teachers' return.
Those who supported the vote stressed that they didn't want to cut teaching jobs - but declining support and a slow-to-arrive state budget made it necessary, they said. After the meeting, Barbara Garver and Jonathan Burkett, who both voted yes, discussed their support while guests stacked chairs in the corner.
"We were brave. We did what we felt was right," Garver said.
"What needed to be done," Burkett added.
Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.