Reading School Board members reviewed ways to close a $13 million budget shortfall Wednesday night just days ahead of the state deadline on June 30th.
In May a final budget of $212.7 million was passed for the upcoming 2013-14 school year. The board knew tough cuts were in store to balance the books. On Monday board members worked late into the night to discuss what options they would consider. Superintendent Carlinda Purcell reviewed the board's suggestions and arrived Wednesday night with a clearer picture of how the district could close the budget gap.
Previously the board had explored options ranging from eliminating all middle school sports to large staff layoffs. However, Purcell's presentation Wednesday night laid out less drastic steps to address the shortfall. She addressed one of the key disagreements between the board regarding the amount of bond money, monies set aside for building renovations, should be used as an escrow to reduce interest on debt payments. "I have laid out two different scenarios based on either a $4 or $5.7 million bond payment."
Using $4 million in bond money would result in a $759,00 surplus even with all of the suggested cuts, while $5.7 million in bond money would net the district over $2.4 million with all suggested cuts. Board member James Washington was in favor of using the larger bond payment to allow more flexibility with cuts. "It behooves the district to go with 5.7," said Washington.
Board member William Cinifici cautioned members about using bond money to pay off interest. "These bonds are for renovating and repairing our aging schools... I'm hesitate about taking too much from bond payments."
Both options, however, assume that the board raise property taxes by 2.8-percent, the largest amount allowed by the state. Purcell's recommendations also included the elimination of per-kindergarten and increased class sizes.
Reducing full day kindergarten to half days was one issue that had the board divided. While all members spoke of the importance of kindergarten, they acknowledged the savings of over $2 million is hard to ignore. Board members Rebecca Acosta, Yvonne Stroman, and Karen McCree were all adamant about keeping full day kindergarten and pointed out that the using $5.7 million in bond payments would save kindergarten from any cuts.
Exactly what would be cut or eliminated won't be known until the board's final budget meeting planned for this Friday at 6PM in the Reading High School.
Allentown, PA 18102