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Centennial Looking at Tax Raise, Teacher Cuts to Close Budget Gap

The school district will apply for exceptions that allow school taxes to rise past the Act 1 index. The elementary school consolidations will translate into staffing reductions.

Facing a $3 million gap in the 2012-2013 budget, Centennial officials have placed higher tax rates and staff reductions on the table to balance the ledger.

Prior to Tuesday night's finance committee meeting, Berdnik posted what he calls an "armageddon" projection of staffing cuts, a worst case scenario that sees the district shedding 60 positions. He says that the final number is highly unlikely, but with the consolidation of Stackpole to the new and Longstreth to , teacher and support staff cuts are inevitable.

"If I had to cut right now to make the budget work, it would be about 35 positions," said Berdnik, figuring a $4 million deficit divided by an average $120,000 salary + benefit teacher expense.

Salary, benefits and contributions to the Public School Employees' Retirement System (PSERS) account for approximately 70 percent of Centennial's budget. Since the PSERS expenditure is a percentage mandated by the state, the most impactful spending cuts come from teacher/support staff salaries and benefits.

Berdnik has worked to reduce spending in other categories, including several of the 500 recommendations made by the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials (PASBO). The push for more efficiencies in day-to-day operations creates pocket change when compared to the sizable dent that teacher cuts would make.

The challenge for Berdnik and the rest of the school district is ensuring that the educational value for the students does not diminish from the cuts. The findings presented tonight at 7 p.m. by the ad hoc committee on class sizes will be taken into consideration during the decision-making process.

The 2012-2013 revenue projections anticipate a tax increase of 1.7 percent, or 1.93 mills, adhering to the Act 1 requirements. Berdnik will also apply for two Act 1 exceptions that add an additional 2.37 mills, or a total tax increase of 3.79%. A mill equals a dollar tax on every $1,000 of assessed property value.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) allows districts to apply for exceptions to Act 1 tax requirements in four instances:

  1. Grandfathered debt from school construction: If there is outstanding debts for school construction projects.
  2. Electoral debt from school construction: Costs associated with paying principal and interest on any voter-approved debt, qualify for an exception.
  3. Special education expenditures: If a portion of a special education cost increase exceeds the district’s special education state funding.
  4. Retirement contributions: If a school district’s increase in the amount of the estimated payments for PSERS between the current year and the upcoming year, as determined by PDE, is greater than the index.

The two that Centennial plans to adopt are the grandfathered debt and retirement contributions.

According to state requirements, the district must apply for the exceptions by Feb. 2. Requesting the exceptions does not mean they are automatically enacted; the school board still needs to vote on whether to pull that lever. However, Berdnik has baked in the additional $1.2 million of revenue generated by the exceptions, meaning if they are not implemented, the $3.3 million deficit grows to $4 million.

Berdnik says that pending sources of revenue have not been added to the budget, mainly from real estate transactions. State rquirements mandate that revenue from building sales must go toward either debt payments or capital projects.

The paperwork for the approved $300,000 sale of the Dorothy Henry Satellite School to Ivyland Borough has yet to be finalized. Berdnik says that a good offer has been made for the property, but he won't disclose the amount or the buyer until it is presented to the school board. The school board also has to give final approval to put the and properties on the market. Berdnik expects that vote to occur at the Jan. 24 meeting.

Steve G January 18, 2012 at 08:21 PM
It defies logic how this School Board thinks and raises taxes at extreme rates every year. We would be better off without a School Board than with the "Spend, Cut and Tax" bunch that we are stuck with. We increase class size, raise taxes, and layoff teachers. On the positive side, we will have the nicest building in the County when all of this construction is finished. Are new buildings, debt and larger class sizes supposed to improve test scores and academic achievement? I am a Southampton resident and I support Southampton getting out of the Centennial School District and forming their own District. They could start fresh and leave Centennial with the debt that the residents of Southampton did not want before this building craziness started. If there are logical thinking citizens out there, please run for the School Board and lets finally get rid of these out of touch individuals who are bankrupting this School District.
John January 18, 2012 at 08:28 PM
Fewer teachers, larger class sizes and tax increases. But it is OK because the community schools were falling apart and cost too much to maintain, we had to get rid of them. I'd rather have 4 qualified teachers than a half million dollar lighting and sound system for the High School. Love the part where we will probably have to get rid of more next year also. "With PSERS increases into the future, 2012-13 will not be the last year of staffing level adjustments" This administration is a joke.
Tired of Hypocrisy January 18, 2012 at 08:46 PM
Every person associated with the ridiculous spending for all the new schools should be removed from their positions. From the first shovel in the ground, they have had nothing come in within budget. They are reactionary instead of pro-active. Build schools & we'll screw the residents and the students. Disgusting all of them. For the record, I live in Warminster and do not know one person who wanted all the Taj Mahol's built.
HONEST MOM January 18, 2012 at 09:50 PM
I can't disagree with the comments that our school board has taken all of us down a path that benefits no one in the end. We can't take another tax increase! Too much detail has already been given to window dressing and not enough attention to quality of education. I suggest all the board members who make our choices for us pony up the big bucks this time or at least invite all of us over for dinner! We can't keep shelling out $$$ for fancy schools when there won't be enough teachers in them for all our kids. The work @ Tennent is sub quality to say the least. Take one look at the entrance in the back. What kind of company leaves tar drippings and doesn't clean them up? What is the metal on the left hand side in the brick for? I think someone make a huge mistake there and who paid for it? The taxpayers!! Now I only noticed this in passing. Imagine if someone actually checked all the work!!! The school board insisted we close our neighborhood schools. How's Willow Dale working out for you now? I don't know many parents happy with the way their children are being taught at a school where they are now a number. In fact I know many who feel they have no choice but to see Catholic School and private school. Shame on this board! I feel for the parents and teachers there. It's just too big! I'm appalled at the decisions this board makes and wish it was left up to the taxpayers who have to foot the bill!!!!!
warmama January 18, 2012 at 11:05 PM
All I can say is ditto what everybody else said. Grrrrrrrrr!!!!!!!!
Jennifer Mohan (Editor) January 18, 2012 at 11:19 PM
It appears the tough discussions are scheduled to publicly begin this evening at the Education Committee Meeting. http://uppersouthampton.patch.com/articles/education-committee-to-review-class-size-recommendations Unfortunately, none of the available options for solving the budget crisis look all that pretty.
CyD252 January 19, 2012 at 03:02 AM
Can someone here cite a comparable Pennsylvania district that is doing a far better job when it comes to managing local taxes and school budgets?
Risa T January 19, 2012 at 01:05 PM
For the record, no one in Warminster wanted any of this either. I think that every one of us is disgusted with what is going on in the school district. I went to the education committee last night and as usual it just went around in circles. It was a huge turnout, but I hate to say it, no matter what we say the board will end up doing what they want anyway. Just look at the elementary school situation. No one wanted it, but it happened anyway.
Pete Krenshaw January 19, 2012 at 03:00 PM
While I agree with most of what is being said - a blanket statement such as "no one in Warminster wanted any of this" is a bit of a stretch. I agree the Centennial School District Board has been severely lacking in common sense and ability to lead. I also agree that the administration, hired by the Board, is woefully under qualified to do the jobs they are tasked with. That being said, the existing elementary schools were old and under utilized. They were in need of extensive renovations which would simply put a "new skin on old bones" or they had to look at more cost effective alternatives. Obviously they choose the alternatives and if performed correctly, we would be in a much better situation. Modern facilities should be more economical to run from an energy stand point as well as from an administrative view. Unfortunately this board and administration can't get out of its own way to do the simplest tasks let alone manage over a hundred million dollars worth of construction. Now we are all left paying the price for their incompetence.
Kevin Quinn January 19, 2012 at 03:40 PM
Don't worry everybody. I trust in a school board that builds new buildings because the old ones were unusable. They then claim the old buildings are ok to use for rentals and other purposes. Instead of divesting the old buildings to eliminate the overhead they continue to operate them as landlords. Brilliant!
Pete Krenshaw January 19, 2012 at 04:24 PM
But they found a buyer for Leary! All the problems will now be solved...right? ;-)
Risa T January 19, 2012 at 04:46 PM
Funny Pete!! Not unless they are selling for 4 million! LOL
Larry Foy January 19, 2012 at 11:13 PM
Sad to say but I am also from Southampton ,It's no different,.Cynthia Mueller started all this spending! Yes as she was trying to shut Davis she said people in Southampton have "expendable income".Why is there never the option of cutting current teacher's salary over cutting positions,seem to me they are the ONLY ones not being squeezed.
Larry Foy January 19, 2012 at 11:28 PM
The guy who designed the new high school now the old high school ,as his first job of his own at his family business he did not know the first thing about construction but at completion of the building became a school board member for many years to come.He and the school board would not listen to my father who spoke out in the early stages of construction as to the bad design.My father was also threatened but he was never one to take stupid people seriously.
Michelle Hazlett January 20, 2012 at 01:30 AM
Thank you HonestMom! I am a parent of a student at Willow Dale. We came from Leary and to tell you the truth I would have taken a school with no air and leaky ceilings over a top notch high tech school. At least at Leary there was a feeling of belonging and pride in the school. Willow Dale may be big but it lacks character and warmth. This board is a joke and I have said it so many times. They screw up and it is everybody else who pays the price for it! When are they gonna be held accountable for their actions?
Kevin Quinn January 20, 2012 at 02:54 AM
Pete, I will believe they have a buyer when the transaction is completed. There's still the debate over the future of the Wrec. Warminster is holding Constance Drive hostage until that is settled.
Steve G January 24, 2012 at 03:02 PM
In response to Pete Krenshaw Is building a new school to replace Davis at a cost of 28 to 30 million dollars more cost effective than upgrading the existing building at a cost of 6 to 10 million dollars? Great, it will be more energy efficient! However, the debt service will cost much more than the energy savings each year. Pete, when your house needs a new heating and air conditioning system and some electrical work, do you tear down your house and build a new house? No you repair or replace what is needed. Why because that is the practical solution! Unfortunately, that is now how our School Board thinks. Fortunately, I am past the days of having children in school. I know that when Davis was a stand alone neighborhood school it was like a family. The principal at that time Dr. Belli knew every child. With the new school (double in size), the family atmosphere will be missing. It will resemble a city school. We all know how well city schools fare. News flash! Looking at Klinger during the summer carnival, it appears that this school is not being properly maintained. After the current building craze is the School Board then going to tell us that Klinger is in such a state of disrepair that it also needs to be replaced????? The board screwed up!! Everyone but the board knows this and the taxpayers will pay higher taxes for their lack of common sense for years.
Pete Krenshaw January 24, 2012 at 08:18 PM
Steve, from my understanding there is more to upgrading the building beyond heating/air conditioning and electrical work. Unfortunately, since the schools are public facilities, consideration has to be taken to upgrading per ADA requirements along with all the other systems. I also remember reading how Davis Elementary was a wooden structure and the fire codes would have made it cost prohibitive to bring it up to today's standards. These buildings are not built like a house and its not as simple as replacing an air conditioner or heater. The class rooms were designed at over 1000 SF per room and also do not meet today's standards for education facilities (SF/student/room) and we supposedly had underutilized facilities which we were then paying to heat and staff. Also, something else to keep in mind, the original buildings had a projected life of what...40 years? Maybe 50? They are essentially at the end of their life cycle with major components failing (roof, boiler, electrical systems, ect) and to retrofit is simply gold platting a piece of junk. Again, since these are public facilities, you can't just upgrade a portion of it, you have to do the whole facility.
warmama January 26, 2012 at 09:03 PM
Mr. Krenshaw, If that is the case, then can you explain to me why they renovated Willow Dale instead of building a new building? I'm not asking to be argumentative. I really want to understand why they chose to renovate Willow Dale and double it's population while building new buildings to replace the other schools.
Pete Krenshaw January 26, 2012 at 09:22 PM
warmama, that is a good question. I believe the argument at the time was the building itself was mostly there and compliant with current codes and regulations. They took unused basement space in one wing and finished it into classrooms, digging out the courtyard to allow for windows to be installed. I don't know the extent of the renovations in the remainder of the building. Just that the "core" of the facility was solid and worth keeping/renovating. Davis Elem. on the other hand was built much earlier with timber construction making it cost prohibitive to retrofit. Finally, looking at McDonald, one would see a very "solid" building but the configuration is so different with the "pods" that it was felt they could not offer similar programs as the other two elem schools. This is what I remember from the presentations and previously published news articles. I believe one of the main points was to equalize what was offered throughout the district so no one school had an advantage over another. From what I remember, other objectives were to consolidate classroom space (older buildings had rooms with larger area then new buildings and the ratios were off for SF/student/classroom), reduce cost of core facilities/staff (much of the cost of a school is in the "common space" of the library, cafe, and admin - so reduce the number of schools and reduce the number of admin/staff to run it all) and update the facilities to modern standards. Maybe others remember more details?
Pete Krenshaw January 26, 2012 at 09:28 PM
At the end of the day it was about money - but to be able to obtain more bang for the buck. Obviously the administration and the board has changed over several times since this plan was initiated. Apparently, somewhere along the way things went off the tracks and it seems we are ending up with the worst of it all. Grossly mismanaged design/construction and ill conceived plans for execution. Instead of improving the quality of education we appear to be jamming as many kids into a building as possible, reducing the quality of education through less teachers and less programs. Just look at the high school where they are now considering discontinuing romantic languages and technical oriented classes... When will it end?
warmama January 27, 2012 at 11:21 PM
I don't know. There were problems 17 years ago when my first entered the district schools. I have watched it get worse and worse as time goes by. I am happy not to have any children left in the grade schools and middle schools, and hope that my last in high school can make it to graduation before it gets much worse. In the last board meeting, there was discussion of saving money on computers if students brought their own computers to school. Then, as one board member commented, they would be responsible for the upkeep of their own computers. I don't know about anyone else, but there is no way I am sending my kid to school with a laptop so it can be stolen or vandalized by another student.
Pete Krenshaw January 28, 2012 at 04:23 AM
I would have to agree with you on that idea... I wouldn't be sending my kid in with a computer just so it can get destroyed. Apparently all options are on the table. One thing is clear, changes need to be made. The way things have been going is unacceptable and unsustainable. Let's hope it can get back on track sooner rather then later.

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