NEWTOWN SQUARE–Parents, teachers, students, and staff filled the meeting room to the brim, with people standing and sitting on the floor, for a special budget workshop session on Wednesday evening.
"This is a very challenging meeting for all of us here," said school district Superintendent Dr. Merle Horowitz at the beginning of the meeting. "I've been involved in education for 36 years. I would never think I would see the time when the state would cut a billion dollars out of public education. Well, that time has come."
The school board presented an estimated $1,864,000 budget shortfall for the 2011-2012 school year and a proposed 5.5 percent real estate tax increase for homeowners, or 4.1 percent over the state capped Act 1 index. The district is in order to go over the 1.4 percent state allowed tax increase.
According to school board Business Administrator Joe Driscoll, the $1.8 million figure is what the district needs in either revenue or expense cuts to balance out next year's school budget.
"The impact of that state budget has been significant to all school districts," said Driscoll referring to . "For the Marple Newtown School District, it was about $942,000 in loss revenue. Of that amount, the district is estimating at least $500,000 will be saved. So instead of cutting $1.8 million in programs, expenses and other costs, we are at an estimated shortfall right now of $1,364,000."
Driscoll explained the district anticipates receiving a proposed $500,000 in revenue from the state, which would shrink the budget shortfall to $1.3 million.
For the past two years, the school district has made some "very painful cuts" for the community, according to Horowitz.
"Our goal has always been–when we look at a possible reductions–that it will have the least effect on children in this school district," said Horowitz. "So, once again, this year, we have the challenging task of what would be the least painful reductions to affect the everyday education of our children."
Nine specific items were on the list of proposed cuts to help bridge the gap for next year. Those included:
- Field trips–$30,000 in savings from transportation costs and extra duty staff;
- SAT/PSSA prep courses–$13,000 in savings from hourly wages (it was mentioned at the meeting that these classes would be made available to students who would like to take them during the day as an elective);
- 6 library assistants–$250,000 in savings
- 5 clerical positions–4 part-time office assistants in all the elementary schools in the district for $56,000 in savings and a 10.5-month contracted secretary for $47,000 in savings;
- 2.5 full-time elementary school math specialists for $48,000 in savings;
- German language classes at –1 full-time teacher at the middle school and half a teacher at the high school for the 2011-2012 school yer for a savings of $75,000;
- 4 full-time special education assistants–$98,000 in savings (it was mentioned at the meeting this was the third largest line item in most school districts' budgets); and
- Budgeted salary increase freezes in the school district–$747,000 in savings.
A few members of the public stood up and voiced their concerns with the proposed cuts for next year.
Several seventh-grade students from the middle school urged board members to reconsider cutting the German-language program at the school.
"I am extremely distraught and disappointed," said seventh-grade student Connor Buckley. "I look forward to coming to German every day. There are other ways without cutting German. I suggest that the program would be phased out with this class of 2016 as the last class."
Even more parents and staff shared their concerns about the possibility of cutting special education assistants and office assistants in the district.
Joan Tobin, a Worrall Elementary School parent of a child with Asperger's syndrome, said the special education assistants were with her son every day throughout the entire school day in which he was "able to improve so well" with their help.
A 10-year special education assistant at Culbertson Elementary School and 24-year Newtown Square resident Celeste King urged the community to get more involved and to address the "dire" circumstance the district is currently in.
"I would like to note that although these are difficult times, the support staff in this district is vital to the eduction of these students–vital," said King. "The funds are not given to us. We need to inundate our legislatures. When people say, 'I don’t want to pay taxes...' we pay for an educated society. So pay now or pay later."
Russell parent Colleen Birmingham shared her frustrations if elementary school office assistants were to be cut.
"If these cuts are made...how can I tighten my belt as a parent?" asked Birmingham. "The secretary may be cut at our school. She is vital to our school. How is the school going to run?"
School board President David McGinley commented that although there was a long list of cuts to look at and began looking at an approximate $2.6 million budget shortfall with cuts already made in the district, those listed were the final cuts put on the table.
"We have explored everything and it’s a really hard job for our administration," said McGinley. "We’ve already gone through cuts and bareboned them for the past two to three years and the beginning of this process."
The school board must adopt a proposed final budget by May 30 and approve the final budget by June 30.