Abington Heights School Board members discuss budget shortfall

By Robert Tomkavage - rtomkavage@timesleader.com | October 27th, 2015 1:44 pm

CLARKS SUMMIT — Members of the Abington Heights School Board discussed ways to compensate for an operational loss of $350,000 for the 2014-15 school year and the potential for much larger deficits in the upcoming years.

According to Abington Heights Superintendent of Schools Michael Mahon, the district is projecting a loss of $2.7 million for 2015-16, in large part due to increased salaries and pension. For 2016-17, the district projects a loss of $3.5 to 4 million.

“It’s concerning, but we’re working on it,” Mahon said. “We have time in front of us, we’re looking at this as a long process to get to a good solution with our budget. The numbers, early on, always look bad. We’re going to do the best we can to come to an excellent solution for the school district.”

The district has not raised real estate taxes in the past nine years, but due to financial strains it may be an option.

“We always want to avoid a tax increase whenever possible, but the external issues that come with pension costs, rising benefit costs and a lack of appropriate state funding really push us to the limit,” Mahon said. “We’re going to continue to build efficiencies but, in the end, (a tax increase) is certainly something the board is going to have to consider as it looks at the budget for next year.”

The district has two options regarding a potential tax increase.

They previously passed a motion to keep any tax increase within the Act 1 index of 2.4 percent or approximately $560,000.

If they decide to consider raising taxes beyond the index, they must have a preliminary budget on display by Jan. 7 and pass the preliminary budget with the exceptions by Jan. 27.

In November, board members plans to make a decision whether to seek exceptions to the index or pass a motion to stay within the index.

“The increase in the operational loss from 2015-16 to 16-17 would be about $800,000 to $1 million,” Board Vice President Warren Acker said. “Our maximum ability to tax would be about $560,000. If we don’t seek exceptions, we will not even come to grips with the increase in the structural loss.”

Mahon also discussed new ways the district is attempting to engage students in college-level presentations.

During the past month, students have had the opportunity the participate in video calls with several higher education institutions, including McCann School of Business & Technology, Philadelphia University and Lackawanna College, featuring discussions regarding potential career opportunities in criminal justice, textiles and sonography.

“It’s been an ongoing effort to provide better, expanded opportunities for our students through the guidance office during ninth period,” Mahon said. “One thing we didn’t anticipate, but have to work on, is a little bit of complacency among our students in taking advantage of these opportunities. There were entirely too few students in the room.”

Board members approved the resignations of secretary Patricia Phillips, effective Jan. 5; custodian Ronald Fawcett, effective Dec. 31; food services employee Penny Jackson, effective Nov. 9; and bookkeeper Rebecca Gavin, effective Nov. 4.

Rebecca Burdett was appointed as a full-time music teacher for the 2015-16 school year and Cassandra Howells as a long-term substitute library science teacher for the 2015-16 school year. Angela Coleman was approved to the substitute nurse list.

Board members approved an agreement between the school district and the Scranton Counseling Center.

“We have student assistance teams that students or teachers can refer other students who may be at risk or having some difficulty,” Mahon said. “Scranton Counseling provides a service through Lackawanna County that assists the district in the referral process.”

Members of the Abington Heights School Board will meet for a work session meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 4 at South Abington Elementary School.

By Robert Tomkavage


Reach Robert Tomkavage at 570-704-3941 or on Twitter @rtomkavage.