Residents in the Oley Valley School District will see their property taxes increase by 1.5 percent following the school board’s budget approval Wednesday night.
The board also voted unanimously to furlough seven full time teaching positions and demote two other full time positions to part time. Board members said the eliminations were the result of declining enrollment coupled with less state funding and added that the furloughs were based on seniority.
Addressing the board, Sarah Trout of Oley, asked if the teachers being let go have any possibly of being rehired. “Is there any way for them to keep their jobs?” Trout asked.
“Not unless the state gives us more money,” said Superintendent Dr. Tracy Shank, adding “all teachers affected are on a recall list… if someone currently teaching moves away or retires, they would be the first to be rehired.”
The board approved an overall general fund balance for the 2013-14 school year at $28,397,527. The budget raised the real estate tax 0.373 mills to a rate of 24.9318 mills for all property taxable for school purposes. The rate of millage would result in an annual tax bill of $2,493 for a property assessed at $100,000. The board said the increase will prevent the district from using reserve funds.
To compensate for the reduction in teaching faculty, the board approved 17 personnel transfers primarily affecting Elementary teachers. Resident Renee Weidner asked the board if the number of transfers was excessive. “I understand budget cuts but do we need to swap out an entire grade level?” questioned Weidner. “Why not start with a few and change as we need it… these transfers seem a bit extreme.”
Addressing parents concerns about the teacher shuffle, Shank said she in confident that teachers will be able to excel no matter what grade level they instruct at. “We have great teachers here in Oley and a great teacher will remain so no matter what level they teach at.”
Dr. Shank said the transfers are needed to fill in the gaps that the furloughed teachers will leave behind. She said the decision was not made lightly and added that no major program cuts were included the budget.
Acknowledging the frustration that teachers and the public had throughout the year’s board meetings President Robert Heckman said the board needs to work on better communication between the district and its residents, as next year’s budget forcast looks even bleaker. “This has been the hardest budget I’ve ever worked on in my 26 years with the district and the next year doesn’t look any better. Within the last five years or so we lost that communication that the board has with the community. I want to get back to a point of open communication,” said Heckman.
Heckman said he will work with Dr. Shank to create an Ad hoc group of board members, administration, and booster clubs to meet before the upcoming school year and open up the lines of communication.