Muhlenberg School District passes 2017-18 budget

MUHLENBERG TWP., Pa. - The Muhlenberg School Board adopted its final budget for the 2017-2018 school year Wednesday night with a 0.5 millage increase.

"I commend the administration and I commend this board," said board president Otto Voit prior to the vote, adding, "It’s never easy to raise taxes when people are on a fixed income."

The budget passed by a 6-1 vote, with member Thomas Gross voting no. The final budget comes in at $58.9 million.

Voit said that half of the increase can be attributed to the state legislature not acting to resolve a crisis within the Pennsylvania Public Schools Employees’ Retirement System, known as PSERS.

"This crisis is only going to get worse," Voit said, adding that millage increases for that reason would "continue for the foreseeable future."

The evening began with an acknowledgment of six district employees retiring at the end of the school year. School nurse Sue Sellgren was one of the honored retirees. Sellgreen served 24 years with the district.

Superintendent Joseph Macharola thanked Sellgren and, presenting her with a certificate, he called her "dedicated, kind and gracious."

In other news, the board seemed bothered by a presentation on the research being done for enhancements to certain athletic fields in the district. Greg Schneider, grounds and transportation coordinator, recommended the installation of turf at a soccer field and expanded bleachers. The estimated cost of his recommendation is $1.83 million.

Board member Richard Hoffmaster requested a "realistic" estimate of how many events would occur on all the fields in question; he wanted proof to the argument that natural fields are difficult to maintain due to overuse.

Schneider said that comparing the field, which is used for soccer, field hockey and lacrosse, to a football field isn't an even comparison.

Hoffmaster also requested a direct comparison of costs for natural enhancements versus turf enhancements.
Board member Tony Lupia said he thinks Muhlenberg should be "proud of the fact we have a natural field."

When it comes to vote at a future meeting, the board can decide to leave the fields alone, invest in a natural grass refinish or invest in artificial turf installation.

Macharola ended the conversation by saying that the district will “continue to invest in educational programs for our children,” adding that the board will likely not encounter another situation like this in which they have the money available for turf conversion. However, he noted the angst that some board members were feeling. He didn’t feel the board should even take the decision to a vote if they felt this strongly about their qualms.

He added, “I don’t want you to do it with this kind of heartburn.”

Macharola ended the conversation by saying that, while the district will "continue to invest in educational programs for our children," he didn't feel the board should vote for turf field upgrades.

The board also approved the resignation of C.E. Cole Intermediate School Principal Ryan Giffing. He is leaving the district to become the assistant superintendent for the Conrad Weiser School District.

The board will meet again on July 12.

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