ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Devoid of options and out of time, the Allentown School District Board of Directors on Thursday night approved a 2014-2015 budget that eliminates 98 positions - including 73 teachers - and raises taxes by 5.85 percent on the city's property owners.
The vote was 6-3, with directors Ce Ce Gerlach, Elizabeth Martinez and David Zimmerman dissenting.
Even with all that, the district was forced to siphon $2.1 million of its fund balance just to make ends meet on the $255.7 million budget, leaving the district with about $8.8 million left in the bank.
Thursday night's vote continues a depressing trend for the district.
Between Fiscal Years 2012,2013 and 2014 the district slashed 406 teachers, putting 229 individuals out of work, according to Jack Clark, the district's chief financial officer.
An amendment made by board president Robert Smith added back two assistant principal positions at the district's two high schools - William Allen and Louis E. Dieruff - was included in the final budget when it passed by an 8-1 vote, with Zimmerman once again dissenting.
"It's a safety and academic issue," Smith said prior to the vote.
An amendment made by Gerlach to save 14 special education teachers' jobs who were cut in the budget failed to receive a seconding vote.
The meeting had an aura of resignation surrounding it as prior to the vote Superintendent C. Russell Mayo made one last pitch to directors to persuade them to vote 'yes' on the budget that was, in his view, the best that could be expected, given the school district's tight spot.
"This is one the most difficult decisions the board will have to make all year," Mayo said about the budget vote.
As if the district needed more concerns than it already has, a political logjam between Gov. Corbett and the Pennsylvania Legislature on the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's budget left the administration and directors uncertain about exactly how much money they would or would not receive, making planning more difficult.
Mayo told directors that both the governor and legislature, unable to hash out any agreement, will not be able to produce a completed budget by their June 30th deadline.
"It could be another two or three weeks," Mayo said of negotiations before the sides perhaps come to an agreement.
That fact is significant for all Lehigh Valley school districts who don't know how much grant money they will or will not receive, but especially so for the Allentown School District, due to its already precarious financial state.
Mayo noted before the vote, the budget includes the governor's $5.2 million "Ready to Learn" grant which is funding 29 teaching positions - 11 new kindergarten instructors and 29 current teaching jobs.
Currently, the legislature is not willing to fund the grant to the amount the governor requested, presenting a far less amount to general education funding.
"We need the $3 million to cover those teachers," Mayo said.
With the past looking bad and the present not looking all that great, the future doesn't hold a particularly bright scenario either, according to comments made by Clark on Thursday night.
Even assuming a 3.2 percent tax increase on the city's property owners, the district will literally run out of fund balance next year, as the district is already proposing a $10.3 million deficit for Fiscal Year 2016, he said.
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