School board approves proposed budget

The St. Marys Area School District Board of Directors unanimously approved the proposed general fund budget for the 2011-12 school year during their regular meeting held Monday evening."I think this is a good budget. We've all tightened our belts and our programming is still in place," said Superintendent Ann Kearney.She noted the 2011-12 budget of $23.6 million is actually less than this year's budget of just over $24 million. Next year's proposed budget includes a .57-mill property tax increase which will result in a $14 increase to residents who own a $50,000 home, with their total property taxes estimated at $804 for the year. Total millage for the district next year will be 32.35 mills.Additionally, Gov. Corbett's proposed state budget would decrease the district's state funding by a total of $740,289, including a decrease of $387,000 in basic education, $66,000 in charter school funding, $59,000 in Educational Assistance Program (EAP) and $227,000 in the Accountability Block Grant (ABG).According to Kearney, the increase is due to several factors, among them cuts in state funding and increases in retirement costs and students attending cyber schools."The costs of cyber schools are going up. When students are expelled, the district is responsible for providing them with an education. We can't forecast the number of students affected. There are many opportunities for students to attend a variety of cyber schools and situations when they are a good thing, such as when there is an illness," Kearney said. "My concern is the growing number of local students who are not having the high level of success they would be having at our schools where they can be monitored."Currently there are 36 students enrolled in cyber schools for next year compared to this year's 23 students. The cost per student in regular education in local schools is between $7.000 to $9,000 whereas cyber school costs are $11,000 to $13,000 per student.She noted that unfortunately, the state plans to cut funding for cyber schools, through which it formerly reimbursed the district 27 percent of the costs. Kearney suggested a possible local approach of having students students attend school part-time and take online classes the other half of their day.As part of the 2011-12 proposed budget, salaries account for 48 percent for a total of $11.3 million, an increase of just over $15,000 from last year. Benefits allot for 18 percent of the budget, totaling $4.1 million."This school has been very wise, so when increases get larger we have money to cover it," Kearney said, referring to the district's establishment of its capital reserve fund in 2007 and its retirement reserve fund in 2009.