Lehigh Valley

EASD administration proposes 56 staff cuts

EASTON, Pa. - The Easton Area School District is going to have to change business as usual for the simple reason that business as usual is broke.

Actually that's a disservice to the word "broke" since the district once again cannot meet their financial obligations.

During Tuesday night's board of directors' finance committee meeting, administrators presented the nuances of the 2014-2015 budget that is looking at a nearly $5 million deficit even after raising taxes by 2.7 percent on homeowners and pulling on $1 million in reserve funds.

That tax hike would mean an increase to the average homeowner in the district of $88 per year, according to Michael Simonetta, the district's chief operating officer.

After much discussions, scenarios, opinions and statements, the solution to close the gap the rest of the way is to cut 56 positions from the district payroll.

"This is not going to be easy or be popular but overall the health of our entire community is at stake," Superintendent John Reinhart told board members directly. "...We need to gain control of our circumstances."

Simonetta said three factors above all are fueling the budget shortfall - $2.7 million in contractual salary commitments, $3.2 million in pension obligations and $500,000 in medical premiums.

The board will vote at their Jan. 28th meeting whether to apply to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for exceptions of raising taxes above the 2.7 index up to 5 percent.

Should directors vote for a 5 percent tax hike, it would cost the average homeowner $158 more per year and save another 23 jobs in the district.

One person who isn't enamored with the idea of a 5 percent tax hike is President Frank Pintabone.

"I personally do not support going above the index," he said.

He went on to add that tax increases actually hurt the families of the students the board represents and undermine their ability to spend time with their children, since they are often working two jobs just to make ends meet.

"It's not just the $88 this year," he said.

To illustrate his point, Pintabone took board members on a walk down memory lane, a jaunt that illustrates the district's proficiency at consistently raising taxes on homeowners.

"For 20 of the last 21 years this district, in good times and bad, has raised taxes," Pintabone said. "...It's not just this year."

Reinhart offered a laundry list of items he believes the district is going to need to "have a conversation about" between the next three to five years, if not sooner, to allow the district to gain that control of their financial destiny.

Those items included the sale of the district administration building and land, located at 1801 Bushkill Drive, and the moving of administrative headquarters to another district building.

Closing one or more of the district's elementary schools. The validity of keeping the Easton Area Academy property or to sell it and house the program somewhere else.

He also noted the district must consider outsourcing services, although he acknowledged under questioning that he didn't know which services he would want outsourced.

Opening the district's facilities and buses for advertisements, a "pay to play" for athletic programs and saving money on energy costs.

Whether any of these potential moves will impact the immediate concern of yet another significant budget deficit is questionable, according to Reinhart. 

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