Upper Perkiomen’s school board and administrators were again met by a large public presence at last Thursday’s committee meeting where they were slated to discuss budget options for next year and custodial outsourcing.
But the meeting, held in Upper Perk High School’s auditorium, was not what some of the approximately 200 attendees expected.
Finance committee chair Harry Quinque said all of the programs people had expressed concern about at the last meeting are “in.”
“The budget you are hearing tonight does not include (cuts to) any of those areas, and I’m going to be specific, it doesn’t include programs, kindergarten, music, sports, all of those programs, including at this point custodial outsourcing, are in the budget, none of those things have been taken out.”
District Superintendent Dr. Beth Yonson, along with board members, clarified after some discussion that programs, such as the elementary school libraries, may have reduced funding, but that programs would remain “intact.”
Quinque said the final vote on outsourcing custodial and maintenance staff will take place at the May 9 regular board meeting, which has also been moved to the high school. Outsourcing was estimated to save the district between $219,000 and $263,000.
The board has a $52,204,674 budget and the “tough decisions” they said they would have to make would be on outsourcing and what amount of fund balance to use, as well as taxes to levy.
“We have to address the cards that we’re dealt here in the valley,” Quinque said. “The fact is we do have quality educational programming here. None of us want to see the quality of education in the valley lost.”
Part of the budget under consideration, is the elimination of nine positions — two elementary instructional support teachers (IST), two instructional assistants at Marlborough Elementary, which could be reallocated to Hereford Elementary because of higher student population, one library and office assistant at Hereford and four paraprofessionals, two from Marlborough and two from Upper Perkiomen Middle School.
The paraprofessionals are employees of General Healthcare Resources, an outside contractor.
When asked by Pennsburg resident Lisa Weller if the employees were notified they would be losing their jobs, Yonson said the district already had one retirement in hand and wouldn’t be notifying anyone because they hoped to, by retirement or attrition, find other positions for those staff members.
“We’re very confident we’re not going to have to lose them,” she said.
Residents prompted administrators and board members to think about the consequences of reducing the support staff. Both Hereford Elementary Principal Ted Mucellin and then Marlborough Elementary Principal Leslie Motruk called instructional support teachers an “integral part of our school.”
Concerns about providing students, especially those in special education, with the same attention and services with fewer staff were voiced by parents and educators.
“How much money the kids who don’t get attention here, I can’t tell you what they’ll cost at the high school level,” said Rich Kressley of Pennsburg.
“Me and my team would never have put this in place if we thought it would in any way harm the children,” Yonson said. “It may be difficult, but we have to restructure.”
Three different budget options were presented by district Business Administrator Sandy Kassel, which included one with a zero millage increase, which would translate to .11 percent tax increase. Berks County residents with the median assessed value would see $2.81 increase per year and similar Montgomery County residents would see $3.53 increase.
That millage rate of 21.9521 would use $3,149,650 of the district’s fund balance.
A 2 percent millage increase would result in a 2.11 percent tax increase, using $2,565,350 fund balance. Median assessed value property owners would see tax increases of $53.91 in Berks and $67.79 for Montgomery.
A 4.4 percent increase, the maximum allowed under state regulations, would amount to a 4.55 percent tax increase with $116.25 and $146.18 for Berks and Montgomery, respectively. That budget would utilize $1,852,610 in fund balance.
The fund balance is gone when it is gone, Kassel explained, and this year the district saved using those monies by refinancing bonds and other savings measures.
The budget’s major expenditure increases came from retirement expenses, which are up $1.2 million this year, tuition to charter schools, social security and special education placements.
Following questions from the public, Quinque said he couldn’t comment on the current state of contract negotiations with the Upper Perkiomen Education Association and how those negotiations could impact the budget.
The board said they would continue to discuss the elimination of staff before the final budget vote in June. Kassel said she would get a final number on how much keeping staff in place would cost. Quinque said the board could vote for a millage increase anywhere between 0 and 4.4 percent.
“Whatever it takes to keep things going the way they’re going, not cut major programs,” said Paul Sherwood of East Greenville. “My family, we barely have two nickels to rub together. If I have to sacrifice something, if you have to raise the tax rate, so be it.”
Sherwood went on to ask if staff would take a pay cut. In response, Yonson stated administrators are already taking a freeze for next year.
“You have to keep in mind what you’re giving up versus what we are getting,” said Kerry Drake of Red Hill.
Not everyone agreed with the notion of a tax increase, including Bill Blair of Pennsburg.
“I speak in opposition to raising taxes as much as possible,” Blair said. “We want a quality education for the children but I submit it not only happens in the classroom, it happens in the home. Three dollars a week is nothing if that’s all we have to pay but everyone knows that’s not the only taxes we have to pay, they’re all going up.”
An Upper Hanover resident agreed.
“I don’t think taxpayers are an unending, bottomless pit. I don’t want my taxes to go up.”
Board Director Raeann Hofkin gave her own budget presentation at the meeting, which included figures on actual expenditures versus revenue over the years. Hofkin said for 2009-12, the district budgeted more than $12 million in fund balance use and utilized less than $100,000.
According to Kassel, the year this district could use about $1 million of $2.6 million budgeted.
“I don’t believe any of those tax increases were needed,” Hofkin said, stating she doesn’t believe fiscal responsibility and a high quality education are conflicting goals.
For more information on the budget presentations at the meeting, visit www.upsd.org.