ROYERSFORD — The Spring-Ford Area School Board will meet in executive session on Monday, June 1, to decide which teaching positions are to be eliminated as part of the adoption of the next year's budget.
The majority of school board members agreed Tuesday that due to the economic hardships brought on by the coronavirus shutdown, it would be best to keep a tax increase between 1 percent and 1.5 percent.
When the budget process began, prior to the pandemic, a tax hike for the $173 million budget hovered around 4.3 percent, according to board Vice President Thomas DiBello, who heads the board's finance committee.
The potential tax hike has since been whittled down to about 2.5 percent, according to DiBello.
At the May 18 work session, the majority of the board initially seemed to settle on a tax increase of 2.6 or 2.7 percent, with DiBello and Board President Colleen Zasowski both arguing that position would put be a burden for taxpayers.
"I do not think we have even begun to see the true impact of this pandemic and what it's done financially to this community and when we do, we're going to have a lot of people to answer to," Zasowski said during the May 18 meeting. "My rose-colored glasses are definitely off."
A tax hike as high as 2.7 percent "would just be twisting the knife in people's backs," she said.
"I know of a lot of families that aren't going to be able to may more taxes," board member Diane Sullivan said at the May 18 meeting.
Several board members struggled during the May 18 meeting with the idea of eliminating the proposed new position of full-time psychologist. That position would have replaced a contracted psychologist who works three days a week.
But by the May 26 school board meeting, the majority of the board had settled on not creating any new positions and on instructing the administration to aim for a tax hike between 1 percent and 1.5 percent
To achieve that, said Superintendent David Goodin, will require cutting current positions.
The potential to cut staff was raised after DiBello noted that "certain groups" had been approached about agreeing to a reduced raise for the coming school year — not a pay cut, but less of a raise — but that request was rejected.
It was not immediately clear if he was referring to the teachers union, the administration, or both, or neither.
Spring-Ford Education Association President Zach Laurie refused to confirm if the teachers union had been approached about taking a smaller raise.
An attempt to get clarification from the school district produced this useful reply from Erin Crew, the district's director of communications, marketing and media: "The school board is considering all options to reduce expenses during this pandemic. Other than what has already been stated publicly, no further conversation related to personnel will be disclosed until the board votes in public as conversations related to specific personnel are done in executive session.”
Nevertheless, in order to get to a smaller tax hike, positions will have to be cut Goodin said at the meeting, referring to TPEs, which Laurie seemed to indicate refers to "temporary professional employees."
Goodin told the board he needs to meet with the board in a closed-door executive session to discuss the impacts of particular cuts even thought it appears the meeting would violate the state Sunshine Act.
That meeting will occur June 1. Pennsylvania's open meetings law allows school boards to exclude the public from discussions when discussing specific personnel matters.
The board also must decide whether to change the penalty for paying property taxes late; and whether to allow a fourth installment payment to ease the financial burden on taxpayers.
Those decisions, along with the adoption of a final budget, are all set to be made at a special public meeting set for Monday, June 8, at 7:30 p.m. at the high school.
The final budget must, by law, be passed by June 30. It must be advertised for 10 days prior to that, and the tax collectors need the numbers so that tax bills can be printed in time to be sent out by the legal deadline.
That means decisions on a final budget must be made by early June.
"It's go time. We have to get this thing passed and behind us," said DiBello.