Abington Heights School Board discusses budget, transportation plans

By Robert Tomkavage - rtomkavage@timesleader.com | March 22nd, 2016 5:10 pm

CLARKS SUMMIT — Abington Heights Business Manager James Mirabelli reported during the school board’s March regular monthly meeting that the district is currently facing a deficit of approximately $3.5 million for the 2016-17 year.

“Even if you cut that number in half, it’s still a big problem,” Mirabelli said. “We have a true, operational structural deficit. The situation is pretty dire and we have a lot of work to do to get to a sustainable operation.”

According to Mirabelli, the district utilized its fund balance for operating expenses for the first time in 2014-15 and he expects an increased utilization in the coming year.

“This board has had a tremendously difficult task of funding our school operation and the task continues to get more challenging each year,” Mirabelli said. “While Abington Heights has prepared for the future by accumulating a healthy fund balance, it’s rapidly being drawn down due to the structural deficit which has been incurred and increases annually.”

Despite the financial struggles, Mirabelli commended members of the board for their fiscal responsibility.

“Abington Heights increased its expenditures by 16 percent over a 10-year period,” he said. “When you consider pensions, health care and salaries make up 75 percent of our budget, and those are being mandated to increase, that’s pretty impressive.”

According to Mirabelli, the district has had two real estate tax increases over the past 12 years, totaling 5 mils.

The current median tax bill in the district is $2,300 per homeowner.

If the district increases taxes to the Act 1 index of 2.4 percent, there will be an additional cost of $56 per homeowner on average, generating approximately $600,000 in additional funds for the district.

Members of the board previously passed a referendum not to raise taxes above the index.

According to Mirabelli, the district has budgeted an increase of $917,000 for pension costs for the 2016-17 school year.

“(Despite) all the work the board and administration has done and the difficulties our employees have had by taking on more work in the classroom, we’re still paying more than we every had which is very disheartening,” Abington Heights Superintendent of Schools Michael Mahon said.

Mahon believes additional staffing cuts may be necessary for the district to remain a sustainable organization.

“I would feel much better if we haven’t been cutting positions for many years,” Mahon said. “The only way you save money is to cut your head count, and at this point it cuts into services,” Mahon said. “We have to look at changes and what we can stomach with the idea that we have to keep the doors open.”

After recommending members of the school board accept a proposal from Rohrer Bus for all the school’s regular bus routes for a three-year period during last month’s meeting, Mahon announced many of the district’s independent contractors have been designing a plan to allow the local contractors to retain their routes.

“We had a very productive meeting and currently a work group of contractors are working on a plan that will bring all costs in line at the state reimbursement formula for the district,” Mahon said. “It will preserve a variety of our excellent, local vendors who are operating independently and provide fair compensation for all our contractors. My hope is to have this (situation) resolved by early April.”

In other business:

• Members of the board approved a leave of absence for high school math teacher Jeffrey Ellsworth, effective for the 2016-17 school year.

• Board members also approved the resignation of high school match teacher Stephen DiPerri and van driver Joseph Guzzi, effective at the end of the 2015-16 school year.

• Dawn DeRiso was appointed as a school aide while school is in session.

• Margaret Myers was approved as a substitute registered nurse and Frederick Pfister was approved as a substitute van driver for the 2015-16 school year.

Members of the Abington Heights School Board will meet for a work session at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 6 at Abington Heights High School, 222 Noble Road, Clarks Summit.

By Robert Tomkavage


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