WEB ONLY -- Reluctantly passed: a phrase that defined the approval of one local school district's preliminary budget Thursday night.
The Allentown School Board voted 7-2 to pass a preliminary budget that includes nearly 250 job cuts, a tax hike and debt restructuring.
"This is a horrendous situation to be in," said board member Holly Edinger, who voted for the preliminary budget. "To be this far below from where we need to be to do a great job, it's just ridiculous."
Superintendent Gerald Zahorchak said that Governor Corbett's lack of education funding was a surprise to everyone.
"It was beyond our worse expectations," said Zahorchak. "We expected to lose some things, like the stimulus, but there was talk of gaining something in revenue. We never expected funding for tutoring and charter schools to be wiped out. Budget processes around the state have been traumatizing, in ours and other communities."
The budget includes 208 furloughed positions and 39 retiring positions. It also includes a tax hike that will cost the average homeowner in the district an extra $105 next year.
Even recognizing that the preliminary budget is not the final budget, board members Robert Smith and David Zimmerman still voted against it.
"With all of the things I see in here, I can't vote for this on my principles and in good conscience ," said Smith.
Board President Jeff Glazier said that although the budget looks bad, the district has been doing a good job of keeping business and administrative costs down. Glazier said the district ranks 461 out of 500 in business office spending at $103 per student and 468 out of 500 in administrative costs at $584 per student. The state average is $190 and $815 for each category, respectively.
However, Glazier said that even though the district has been doing its job financially, the burden put on it by the state is heavy.
"We've all heard about the 100-year floods, well this is the 100-year budget," said Glazier.
The board is still mulling over additional ways to cut costs, including restructuring the district's student transportation and offering its own cyber school. There are currently 36 ideas still on the table, while 21 adjustments have already been made. Those adjustments already in the budget net the district a savings of $26,357,736.
Board member Julie Ambrose commented that the budget deficit facing Allentown School District is the size of some school district's entire budgets.
"The entire budget for the Catasaqua School District is around $27 million," said Ambrose. "How can we be expected to cut as much as a school district runs on?"
The board did elect by a 5-4 vote to sell delinquent tax liens, adding approximately $1.2 million back into the budget.
School board members will look to pass the district's final budget at their June 23 meeting.