NEW BETHLEHEM – Residents of the Redbank Valley School District could be paying more in school taxes for the 2019-2020 school year.

During its regular meeting on May 6, the Redbank Valley School Board approved the district’s proposed final budget for the upcoming school year, which includes a tax rate increase to the maximum index of 3.4 percent.

The vote to approve the first reading of the new tax rates was passed unanimously by the eight board members present — board member Darren Bain was absent for the vote.

The projected increase will raise tax rates in Clarion County to 33.7497 mills, up from the current rate of 32.64 mills, and 24.7228 mills in Armstrong County, up from the current rate of 23.9499 mills.

According to district officials, Redbank Valley is expecting to net $95,076 from the tax increase to the maximum index.

The proposed final budget for next school year totals $18,757,875, which increased slightly from the 2019-20 proposed preliminary budget of $18,539,680 that was approved back in February.

District business manager Cheryl Motter credited the $218,195 difference from the 2019-20 preliminary budget to the proposed final budget to the number of students enrolled in out-of-district placements or cyber school.

“We are required to provide their education if their parents live in the district,” she said on Tuesday.

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Even with a possible tax increase to the index, district officials pointed out that the current proposed budget anticipates revenues of $17,662,304, still leaving the district with a deficit of $1,095,571.

Following the meeting, board president Dr. Chad Shaffer said that at last Thursday’s work session board members heard from Dale Kirsch — who the district contracted as a business management consultant — regarding the financial future of the district.

“It was very informative, but also extremely concerning,” Shaffer said of the session with Kirsch, explaining that the district is still facing a large deficit despite the proposed tax increase and anticipated increases in state support.

Motter said Redbank Valley is anticipating a total of $8,747,525 in basic education funding from the state for next school year, an increase of $93,848 from the current year.

According to Shaffer, an updated five-year projection for Redbank Valley shows the district’s fund balance running out within the next four to five years. To prevent that, he said, the district would need to generate $900,000 per year by way of expense cuts and revenue increases.

Should that not occur, Shaffer added, the next step would be for the district to fall under a state-mandated board of control.

“The possibility of a state board of control having to step in in the coming years is very real,” he said. “A lot of us left wondering how we can make this work.”

Shaffer said that while curbing spending is helpful, board member Jason Barnett pointed out last week that “there is no way that cuts are going to accomplish enough.”

“There’s no way that raising to the index plus cuts is going to amount to enough,” he said. He added, however, that one option could be to look for a tax referendum next year with the hope that the community would want to maintain local control of the school district. “Otherwise, I don’t see any other way other than the state board of control coming when the fund balance is gone.”

Despite the sobering future, Shaffer pointed out that the district is still here and working on moving forward.

“The most important thing is that the education of our students is exemplary,” Shaffer said. “We’re going to keep moving that forward. This isn’t something that we want to bring down the staff and students. We’ll try to find ways to fix it.”

The motion to pass the proposed final budget passed in a 7-1 vote, with board member Dee Bell voting no.

The district’s final budget for the 2019-20 school year is expected to be approved at the June 3 meeting.

Other Business

• Prior to the start of the meeting, board members had the opportunity to operate robots constructed by students in the VEX Robotics program.

In presentations led by the elementary and high school robotics students during the meeting, board members heard details of the local and regional competitions the students have been participating in.

• The first reading of Section 511 Per Capita rates for the following townships/municipalities for the upcoming school year were approved as follows: $10 per head for Redbank Township (Armstrong), Madison Township (Armstrong), Mahoning Township and Monroe Township; and $5 per head for Hawthorn Borough, New Bethlehem Borough, Porter Township, Redbank Township (Clarion) and South Bethlehem Borough.

Additionally, the Section 679 Per Capita tax was set at $5 per head, the Oak Hall Monroe Township Per Capita tax at $15 per head, the occupation tax at $10 per head, the Earned Income Tax at 0.05 percent and the Real Estate Transfer Tax at 1 percent.

These rates are the same as last year.

• S&T Bank, First United National Bank, Northwest Trust Bank, Clarion County Community Bank, PA Invest Program, PLGIT and RBC Dain Rauscher were retained as district depositories.

• Maintenance supply bids in the amount of $18,968.73, as well as ARIN Xerographic bids in the amount of $14,061.15 were accepted for the 2019-20 school year.

• All federal programs and grants for next school year were approved as part of the district budget.

• Board members approved a National Honor Society Beautification Project. They then agreed to support the project, not to exceed $1,750.

• A resolution supporting cyber charter school amendments as presented was unanimously approved.

• A list of Redbank Valley High School’s graduating seniors was approved as the Class of 2019.

• In a 7-1 vote, district officials approved the Clarion County Career Center operating budget for the 2019-20 school year. Board member Jason Barnett voted against the motion.

• After questioning how the money was used, the board unanimously agreed to renew the district’s membership with the Pennsylvania School Boards Association Inc. at an annual cost of $5,636.92, a $267.74 increase from last year.

• Approval was given for lead testing in locations of ingestible water on each campus not to exceed a cost of $250.

• The resignations of musical director Jack Gareis, effective immediately, aide Deanna Sebastian, effective April 26, and cafeteria worker Debra Traister, effective April 19, were accepted.

The board also approved the retirements of teacher Karen Dawson effective June 21 and custodian Greg Termine effective June 28.

• Dr. Stephen Jaworski was retained as district dentist for the upcoming school year at a cost of $4 per exam, and Dr. Brandon Doverspike was retained as district physician at a cost of $6.50 per physical.

• Chad Ortz and Devin Shumaker were hired as football coaches at a total cost of $2,155 and $575 respectively.

Additionally, Stanley Horne was approved as a football volunteer.

• Melissa Carlson was hired as a three-hour cafeteria aide at an annual rate of $5,536.06, and Janel Thomas was added to the substitute cafeteria worker list.

• A contract with district business manager Cheryl Motter was renewed for a term of two years (July 1 through June 30, 2021) at a total annual cost of $71,593.

• James T. Jones was hired as the head of custodial and maintenance services for a one-year contract at a total annual cost of $58,088.

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