Honoring heroes

From left to right: TASD Superintendent Stephanie Keebler, Assistant Superintendent Michael McGaughey, students Dylan Claypoole, Caitlin Nordin and Kenny Claypoole and President of the School Board Lynn Cressman pose for a photo. The three students were honored for their ‘heroic acts’ when a district bus crashed.

The Titusville Area School District Board of School Directors meeting agenda was full for the regularly scheduled committee meeting Monday night. The agenda was littered with items needing approval, however, one item dominated the discussion — the 2022-2023 proposed final budget.

The numbers are still subject to change, with lots up in the air relating to state allocations, but overall the District’s Business Manager, Shawn Sampson, said he is optimistic about the coming year’s budget.

The proposed budget does include a tax increase for Crawford County residents in the district.

Before getting to the agenda items, the school board took time to recognize three students who went above and beyond to help at a time of crisis.

Kenny Claypoole, Dylan Claypoole and Caitlin Nordin were given certificates, and recognized before the board for their “heroic actions.” The three students helped give aid to fellow students who were injured in the bus crash that took place on April 25. The students helped provide aid to those on the bus before first responders could get to the scene.

At the meeting, Sampson took time to present figures relating to the budget to the school board. Sampson said he was giving a narrative of the budget, so that the board can understand how the finance department got to this point.

As it stands, the district is looking at a deficit of $205,000. To help cover the deficit, the current proposed budget includes tax increases for Crawford County residents of 1.06 mills, which is a 2.43% increase, Warren County residents in the district, which account for 2% of the district, would see an increase of 1.42 mills, a 2.53% increase, while Venango County residents would not see an increase.

The difference in the millage increases for the different counties is due to a formula which Sampson and the district must use, but takes into account market values for homes among other factors.

Sampson did say that the district is optimistic that the increases will be reduced.

Close to 65% of the district’s budget comes from government subsidies. When it comes to next year’s budget, those subsidies are still in question. Sampson said that Governor Tom Wolf has made increased education funding a priority, and has proposed large increases for school districts. The governor, however, still has to work with state legislatures to pass a budget, and conservative lawmakers have come out against such a large increase in funding.

Despite the lack of action in Harrisburg, Sampson said he is “fairly confident” that the deficit and tax increases will be lowered, as what he has been hearing is that there is a consensus of “some level of increase, we just don’t know how big that increase will be.”

Sampson said he likes to present more worst-case numbers to the board. He  said he prefers to lessen an increase toward the end of the process rather than have to tell people he is raising taxes to a higher level at the last minute.

When the finance committee was looking at this year’s budget, there were three figures they were keying onto.

The first two figures were the deficit and tax increases. As it stands, and it is likely to lessen, the current deficit is $205,000, close to half the deficit the district had last year at  $400,000.

When it comes to tax increases, the district is close to the increase they had last year, with taxes rising 1.43 mills this year for Crawford County residents, compared to last year’s number of 1.53 mills.

The last figure that Sampson emphasized was reliance on federal stimulus funding. To help fill gaps related to COVID-19, the district used $1.9 million of federal funding.

As the funding will expire, Sampson said the district was looking to ween off of the federal funding, so that they are not left with large deficits when the funds expire. This year the district is using around $900,000 in federal funding for the budget, which is on track with where they want to be heading.

Sampson said the administration and the board will keep working with the budget and reviewing figures before the final adoption in June at their full meeting on June 20. The hope is by that June date the district will know what the state allocations are.

After presenting information on the budget, Sampson presented briefly on how the district has gotten to this point financially. Sampson gave a short presentation of the Investing in the Future Initiative, something the district has been working on for years.

The initiative has a goal of creating long term revenue streams to help the district, and focuses on special education and online learning. Since starting the initiative the district has brought special education and online learning in-house.

For special education, the district had been using the Intermediate Unit, at a cost to the district. Sampson said that the district was big enough to have their own classrooms, but not fill them, so they contacted other districts.

For online education, the district found itself in the same boat, paying to offer their students services that they felt they could offer in house. Through the creation of the Rocket Online Campus (ROC), the district not only now educates their students in district, but for next year will have either nine or ten other districts use the ROC to educate their students.

Through bringing special education back in district, and creating the ROC, the district spent $1.7 million in added cost. Since starting the initiative, the district has been able to save in costs they paid to other districts, and now also have districts paying them for their services.

With these savings and increases in revenues, Sampson estimates that the net benefit of the initiative is $2.3 million. The hope is that as ROC grows, the net benefit could continue to grow.

The board will vote on the proposed budget at the regular meeting on Monday, May 16. The board will also hear about food services, and potential increases in costs, from Nutrition Group, the company that the district has contracted out for food services. Factors including inflation, food waivers and reimbursement could lead to a substantial increase in the contract, which will also be voted on at the regular meeting.

Meeting notes

— The Director of Building and Grounds, Josh Atkins, presented the board a recommendation to replace the boiler for the high school pool. Replacing the boiler, and installing two water heaters, could cost $89,000.

— On the agenda was a recommendation to approve the purchase of weight room equipment for the high school.

Dvorkin can be reached by email at Gdvorkin@titusvilleherald.com.

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