Abington Heights School Board passes 2015-16 general fund budget with no tax increase

June 29th, 2015 10:20 am

CLARKS SUMMIT — The Abington Heights School Board voted 5-2 to approve a 2015-16 general fund budget of $45,047,040, containing no change in current millage rates during a regular monthly business meeting on Wednesday, June 24.

The district’s millage rate is 117.35. A mill is a $1 tax on every $1,000 of assessed property value.

“I think the board did an excellent job balancing all the different competing circumstances,” Abington Heights Superintendent Michael Mahon said. “The board is in a terrible position because the state has failed us. While certainly a case can be made for (a tax increase), we very much respect the fact that board members are concerned about the effect of taxes on our residents.”

Board members Michele Pusateri, Michele Tierney, Michael Fleming, Louise Brzuchalski and board president Cathy Ann Hardaway voted in a favor of no tax increase. Warren Acker and Francis Santoriello voted against the budget. Jeanne Cadman and Gregory Madensky were absent.

According to Abington Heights Business Manager James Mirabelli, the district plans to utilize $2.75 million out of its health insurance trust fund to balance the budget.

Mirabelli added the district is still facing a deficit of approximately $211,000, but believes it should be able to make up the difference.

“I feel pretty comfortable we can make it up,” Mirabelli said. “We’ve shown we’ve been able to do it year after year.”

Raising taxes to the Act 1 index of 1.9 percent, the maximum the state allows without referendum, would have netted the district approximately $471,000 and cost each taxpayer an additional $44.59, on average. The district has not raised real estate taxes in the past nine years.

The final budget contains three staffing eliminations: a high school match teacher, an elementary teacher and a music teacher.

“I’m going to vote against this budget, primarily for two reasons,” Acker said. “I think we need to start building our revenue in a compounding way and, perhaps more importantly, I’m uncomfortable with the staff reductions in math and music.”

Santoriello also disagreed with the decision not to fill the teaching positions.

“With all these cuts, I believe we’re really starting to dilute our services to our kids,” he said.

The board approved the resignation of choral director Susan Kelly, effective June 19. The position will be filled.

The board also approved the resignations of para-professional aide Shalu Kamra and part-time custodian Gaetana Fawcett, both effective June 12, and custodian Pauline Wooster, effective Oct. 15.

The board approved a leave of absence for teachers Sabrina Yeager, Sarah Sokso and Holly Valtos for the 2015-16 school year and Jacquelyn Gaidula for the first semester of the 2015-16 school year.

According to Mahon, substitutes will fill in for each of the teachers while they are on leave.

The board approved Sarah Szczepanski as a K-12 German teacher.

The board approved the Gender Equality Club as a new after-school club at the high school for the 2015-16 school year based on student interest and student requests. High school English teacher Annette Adair was approved as a volunteer director of the club.

The board approved a Duel Enrollment Agreement with Lackawanna College.

“There are two ways (Abington Heights students) can access the credits,” Abington Heights Assistant Superintendent Thomas Quinn said. “Some of the courses we teach within the high school have been approved by Lackawanna College as comparable to one of their own offerings. If students enrolled in one of those courses choose to pay the tuition, they can get high school and three college credits for the same course. The other alternative is there are a number of courses that Lackawanna will offer to our students outside of our school day, for example in the ninth period open block, where kids could take the class at Lackawanna. In that case, we don’t award high school credit toward graduation but would transcribe the course and note it as a college credit course.”

The board approved a motion to award the Waverly Elementary Roof Restoration Project bid to C & D Waterproofing Company of Bloomsburg at a bid of $327,980.

According to Mirabelli, the work will cover the replacement of one section of the roof and recoating 80 percent of the roof.