North Penn School District officials remain shell shocked over Gov. Corbett’s budget proposal that puts them $4 million in the hole, ratcheting the district up to a $14 million shortfall.

The board adopted a $212.5 proposed budget last month.

However, state Rep. Todd Stephens, R-151, came to the school board meeting March 17 to tell the board he’s stepping up to the plate to try to reverse at least some of the governor’s red ink, especially the $2.3 million from a proposed change in the formula that cuts Social Security cost reimbursement to the district. North Penn will lose more on that line item than any other district in the state.

Stephens told the board that Corbett’s budget statement is a proposal, not a done deal.

“I spent the last week rolling up my sleeves and digging in,” Stephens said. Stephens, a former assistant district attorney, asked school officials to give him some numbers to take to the administration to argue their case.

“You could not anticipate this big a cut on such short notice,” Stephens said. “To drop this at the 11th hour doesn’t seem fair to me.”

Board President Vincent Sherpinsky thanked Stephens for his help and for letting officials know beforehand the other cuts to school funding that the governor was considering, giving them a leg up on the problem.

“We still have a lot of tough choices to make,” Sherpinsky said.

Afterward, Sherpinsky said residents expect excellence from their public schools and the board will try to maintain all the essential programs for students. As for the surprise cut in the Social Security funding, he said, “No one saw that coming.”

The state administration is dealing with its $4 billion budget shortfall by “handing North Penn taxpayers the bill,” Sherpinsky said. “For every dollar North Penn taxpayers send to Harrisburg, we get a nickel back,” he said. “Corbett took that nickel and made it 3 cents.”

“These cuts are to the bone,” Sherpinsky said. “If I was a triage nurse, I’d tell you these are fatal wounds. Harrisburg is trying to solve their fiscal problem by hitting North Penn taxpayers in the wallet. We hope they take a hard look at their proposal and realize it directly impacts the community.”

But Sherpinsky said it was too soon to say whether or by how much local property taxes might go up.

The board also watched a video outlining the district’s budget quandary. Superintendent Curtis Dietrich has held a series of meetings around the area to ask residents for their suggestions. Dietrich said North Penn is “facing an unprecedented challenge” this budget cycle.

Alan Malachowski, president of the North Penn Education Association, the teachers union, said in a press release that his members are “extremely concerned” about the district’s budget situation.

“Lines of dialogue will remain open with the district and we will continue to partner with them to evaluate and implement the cost-saving measures necessary to maintain the high standard of education at North Penn,” Malachowski wrote.

Dietrich noted that employees have submitted hundreds of cost-saving ideas that will be presented to the public in an Innovation Celebration May 2 at Penndale Middle School.

The district has also sought to cut costs through energy savings, a transportation agreement with neighboring school districts and reducing the threshold for bids.

In another measure designed to reduce costs, the board voted March 17 to inform Independence Blue Cross that as of July 1, it intends to use a self-insurance plan for employee health insurance. The plan would save the district $3.8 million in its second year, but in the first year the savings will be used to build up a reserve account to pay claims. Employees should see no change in their health care plans, which will still be administered by Blue Cross.

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