By B. Garret Rogan
For Sunday Dispatch
EXETER — Although the Wyoming Area School Board passed its 2015-2016 school year budget by a margin of 8-1 during the June 23 regular meeting, it is clear that future budget cuts and an upcoming teacher contract negotiations will be contentious.
The new budget anticipates $33,598,709 in expenses with a 2.6 percent property tax increase. The Luzerne County communities of the district will see property taxes rise from 14.30 mills to 14.63 while the district’s Wyoming County communities see their mill rate go up to 77.44 from 75.48.
Financial analyst Tom Melone explained the financial challenges that face Wyoming Area, funding for retirement pensions, special education, charter and cyber schools, are identical to those of “70 percent of the districts in the state.”
His statement did little to comfort board members who spent the rest of the meeting scrutinizing budget items and calling for “outside the box” ideas for savings.
Board member Carl Yorina, who voted in favor of the budget, explained he was doing so with misgivings.
“We need to get absolutely insane with our administrators for ideas,” he said of the need to find ways to increase revenue and cut spending.
“We need to find a way to raise revenue even to the point of it being illegal,” he continued. He used the example of having slot machines at a carnival and stated that if he were arrested for such actions, that would at least call attention to the need for more funding for public schools.
When challenged by Exeter resident George Race as to why he voted in favor of the current teacher contract, Yorina acknowledged feeling hypocritical but ultimately believed the current package of salary and benefits attracts the type of quality professionals that makes him comfortable sending his own children to the district.
Mary Louise Degnan, the only board member to vote against the budget, disagreed and prefaced the upcoming fight over the next teachers’ contract by stating that, “in this day and age, there are many people looking for work.”
Degnan was also the only board member to vote against an increase in per diem rates for substitute teachers from $75 to $95 and against a leave of absence for Robert Kaluzavich, principal of the Sara J. Dymond and Montgomery Avenue elementary schools.
Kalyzavich’s paid leave will require the district to hire a substitute principal. The precise salary and whether or not the substitute principal will receive benefits is not yet known.
Degnan did, however, echo Yorina’s call for alternative ways of thinking in terms of finding ways to raise revenue, claiming, “I have been pressing for people to use outside-the-box thinking for the last four years.”
Board President Dr. Estelle Campenni shared her emphasis on having administrators take proactive steps to preventing rising costs. She urged her fellow board members to be at the schools on a weekly basis so that committee members can meet with department heads to keep everyone on the same page as issues develop.
Campenni also raised the possibility of having student athletes participate in sports on a “pay to play” basis to offset costs associated with athletic activities.
The next regular meeting of the Wyoming Area School Board will be held at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, July 28.
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