Spring Cove plans tax hike

ROARING SPRING — For the third year in a row, property owners in the Spring Cove School District will see a tax increase.

The increase translates to $34.26 per $100,000 of assessed value for property owners, business office director Kathy Hazenstab said.

Board members expressed frustration over their choices, which board member Troy Wright said boils down to increase taxes or find areas to cut in what was described as a “bare-bones” budget of $27,988,089.

“I can’t see anywhere to cut,” Wright said, noting the district has already sold off its vocational shop equipment and pared back wherever it was possible while trying to tackle issues with its buildings that cost money, such as the removal of asbestos.

Wright said the district has doubled registration fees — what he called “pay to play” — at the high school level and introduced them at the middle school, and that the cuts are to the point there isn’t anywhere left to slash.

Board member James Butler pointed out that with staff costs taking up 70 percent of the budget, finding places to cut the 5 percent — as suggested by board treasurer John Biddle as he moved to adopt the proposed budget — would almost have to mean cutting staff, a proposition no one said they supported.

“We lead the county in taxes,” Biddle said, pointing out that with municipal taxes and county taxes, Spring Cove property owners in Roaring Spring pay upward of 17 mills in taxes.

“Somewhere along the line, we have to stop this,” Biddle said.

“I’m open to suggestions,” Board President Brian Gahagan told the nine-member board.

Butler said the numbers don’t tell the whole story and said the district receives fewer state dollars than other districts, while when it comes to dollars spent per student, the district is second to the lowest next to Tyrone Area.

Superintendent Betsy Baker noted that with the state’s equalized millage formula, the district is considered the “second richest in Blair County” so the state reimbursement is lower and while staff cuts in recent years have been painful, every year the administration has to look at the number of students and the number of teachers and staff and make decisions about where to cut.

“We’re looking proactively to what we can do to balance the budget,” Baker told the board.

Some areas that are hitting the district hard include the cost of contributions to the Pennsylvania Public School Employees’ Retirement System and charter cyber schools. Cyber school tuition costs are expected to eat up about $500,000 for the year, she said.

Baker also pointed out the district has eliminated woodshop and the preschool program and cut 15 positions in the past three years.

On a brighter note, the district has managed to secure just shy of a million dollars in grant money for programs and initiatives that would otherwise be unattainable, Baker said.

Board member Linda Smith, along with Biddle who suggested budget making always involves padding the budget, stressed cuts were still possible.

“You can trim the budget

5 percent,” Smith said, invoking the ire of Wright and other members who pressed Smith to explain where those cuts should be made.

“That’s the superintendent’s job,” Smith said.

Butler stressed that with 126 professional staff, cuts would have to come from that area since those costs make up 70 percent of the budget.

Board member Amy Acker-Knisely cautioned that when too many cuts are made, the quality of the schools suffer; classroom sizes balloon; and in time it has a negative impact on the property values in the district.

When asked how the district was faring with its current budget, Baker said it was too early to tell.

The proposed 2019-20 budget will be available for public inspection and is slated for final adoption at the board’s next regular meeting on June 24.

Mirror Staff Writer Greg bock is at 946-7458.