By DIANE M. BITTING
Special to the Advocate
The proposed budget for the Elizabethtown Area School District’s 2019-2020 school year now stands as essentially balanced, with revenues and expenses both at $65.58 million, including a 2.9% increase in real estate taxes.
The Elizabethtown school board heard a budget update at its meeting on Tuesday, April 9, given by Superintendent Michele Balliet and the district’s new business manager, Jeffrey Ammerman.
In last month’s budget presentation, there was a $1 million deficit, with expenses predicted at $66.5 million. Now, because of changes to health care, those expenses will be significantly lower for 2019-2020, Ammerman told the board. He also projected lower expenses in special education, transportation and bank fees.
In more specific figures, projected revenues are $65,583,622 while expenses are 65,581,402, leaving a surplus of $2,220.
Ammerman said he expects some increase in state education funding this year. He noted that for Elizabethtown, 68% of revenue is generated locally, with the lion’s share – 54% – being real estate taxes.
“Just as a reminder, there are only five other states in the United States that are less funded with public education than Pennsylvania,” Balliet said.
At the meeting on Tuesday, April 23, Ammerman plans to present the proposed budget compared to the current year. The board has until the end of June to pass a budget.
The board also plans to come up with a five-year financial plan, including building renovation projects.
Relatedly, Adam Bergens, building and grounds director, discussed capital projects for the next school year, including a dehumidification project at East High Street Elementary School to prevent mold. He also reported that the solar field near Bear Creek School is about 70% completed, with the project to be finished by the end of May.
The board also heard about a proposed contract for a “trauma informed” counselor to provide mental health support to students that current school counselors are not trained to provide. Human resources director Richard Toth explained that the position is part of the state Act 44 funding for school safety and security measures and that it would use about one-half of the $25,000 grant the school has received. The counseling will be preventative but could also be reactive in case of a traumatic situation at school.
Balliet discussed the district’s vision for making students into “life-ready” learners. Plans involve transitioning from the Pathways program, with its more traditional career focus, to five “platforms” for graduates: skilled labor, high occupation, STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) and military.
Related to military, Balliet floated the idea of creating a Junior ROTC program. She also talked about strengthening partnerships with colleges, with such possibilities as enabling high school students to earn associate degrees, and improving industry partnerships to offer student internships and apprenticeships.
Troy Portser, director of school and community information, presented a proposed revision to this year’s school calendar, asking the board to approve two additional Act 80 days at the April 23 meeting, so the last day of school would be May 31, as originally planned, instead of June 3. The students will still have met the required number of hours, he said.
Board member Michelle Pelna presented two policies for a first reading: a maintenance policy requiring yearly lead testing and an admissions policy requiring that kindergarteners turn age 5 by Aug. 31 in order to enroll.
In other business, several contracts up for renewal were presented: school physician and dentist, Elizabethtown Borough police for their presence at events such as athletics, and the Substitute Teacher Service. Toth said there will be a $5,100 saving with the STS contract, and that Elizabethtown has a 93.7 percent fill rate, which is higher than most neighboring districts.
The board was also asked to consider accepting these donations: lacrosse team jackets, a piccolo for the music department and funds to purchase books for the high school library.
(This article has been updated to include more specific budget figures and note the surplus of $2,220.)