Trinity Area School Board on Thursday adopted a final 2014-15 budget that includes a 2.7 mill real estate tax increase and cut its annual $26,250 donation to Citizens Library.
The $51,783,672 spending plan was approved unanimously by a 7-1 vote. Board members Frank Golsky and Joseph LaBella were absent.
The millage increase hikes the tax rate to 107.7 mills.
About 30 supporters of Citizens Library, including director Diane Ambrose, attended the meeting in the hopes the school district would not eliminate funding.
Ambrose said following the meeting she was disappointed with the board’s decision.
“We will have to go back and look at programming and staff and decide what cuts need to be made,” said Ambrose, who last week, when the library was notified Trinity likely would cut its funding, said school district’s contribution is equivalent to three months of utility bills, the salary of two part-time staff members, or the cost of children and teen programs and materials. Trinity’s contribution accounts for about 16 percent of funding provided by local municipalities and school districts.
Kathy Pienkowski, circulation services manager at Citizens, told directors that the district’s annual contribution accounted for one-tenth of a mill in the budget, and pointed out that Trinity’s first donation in 1965 was $16,000, a little more than $10,000 less than its current contribution.
The school district is dealing with its own financial crisis. It finished the 2012-13 school year with a nearly $3 million budget deficit and a depleted fund balance, and, according to director of fiscal services David Roussos, “has no room for error.”
In a prepared statement she read before the board voted on the final budget, board president Jennifer Morgan said the school district found itself in a vulnerable position “due to lack of foresight and planning” in previous years.
“Appropriate tax increases and spending controls were not implemented in the past and resulted in the depletion of a once healthy general fund balance. Increases is costs of charter schools, special education, teachers salaries, benefits and pensions have been a major contributor to the increase in expenditures. With limited options, the administration and the school board had to take a hard look at all expenses … and make significant cuts to the budget until such a time that fiscal stability can be restored,” Morgan said.
Morgan also referred to a 2012-13 audit by Cypher & Cypher that noted the district’s fund balance had fallen below the amount recommended by the firm.
Increasing costs, coupled with reduced state aid and federal grants, have made it difficult for many school districts to balance their budgets.
Substitute superintendent Michael Lucas said eliminating library funding was not an easy decision.
“The school board members looked at every single line item, and I credit them for that,” said Lucas. “They did not want to cut programs, they did not want to affect students in a negative way, and they wanted to save every teacher job. That’s where their priorities were. It was with the students and with offering a great, comprehensive program and not eliminating any programs for our kids.”
Citizens Library has an annual budget of about $900,000. The library collected 100 online signatures and about 450 written signatures from patrons and residents in support of Trinity continuing its donation.
“It’s a minimum impact on your budget but a maximum on our budget,” said Pienkowski.
Resident Stephanie Komorowski acknowledged the district is having financial problems, but pointed out that the school board recently reached a separation agreement with Superintendent Paul Kasunich that exceeds $153,000, plus additional expenses.
“Canon-McMillan is giving six times what we are, they’re giving $123,000 this year to Sarris Library. They have a vested interest in education, and I know we do, too. But they have three Blue Ribbon schools and I wonder if it’s because they’ve given to the library and if in some way it’s made a difference in the education of children,” she said.