Public asked for input
By Rob Wheary, Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
MILLERSBURG — Residents of the Millersburg School District were given 30 days to come up with some suggestions on how the district can eliminate an almost $2 million budget deficit.
If they can’t, school board members said they will have no problem with making sweeping changes in the district, including eliminating teaching positions, increasing class sizes, and curtailing sports teams and classes.
Inside a packed auditorium, superintendent Thomas Haupt outlined the reason for the sweeping cuts, reiterating several points made at a special board meeting one week prior.
“Our enrollment has drastically reduced over the last eight years,” Haupt told the public.
According to enrollment data from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, K-12 enrollment has dropped from 949 students in 2006-2007 to 819 students in 2014-2015.
Among the changes in the plan are the eliminating of 10 classes, including Family and Consumer Sciences, Welding and Industrial Arts, library classes.
The cuts will also result in the reduction of 11 full-time teaching positions, three by retirement, three vacated by the non-renewal of temporary professional employees, and five vacated by furlough, in addition to the district’s social worker position.
The district will also eliminate two secretarial support positions and an administrative position.
The board then recommended that several cuts be made to the athletic programs as well, such as eliminating the mandatory random drug testing program, eliminating several sports, most of which are in co-op programs with neighboring school districts, such as golf, swimming, and wrestling, and reducing eight coaching positions, and reducing scrimmages to just one per sport, per season.
All of the cuts made is expected to save the district approximately $1.3 million, with the remaining $650,000 deficit covered by Millersburg’s fund balance, which currently stands at $2 million. If the cuts are not made, the budget deficit could be wiped out, leaving the district with only $68,000 in the fund balance.
After the presentation, members of the public spoke for approximately two and a half-hours against the district with board members and the district administrators taking shots about the public not being given the chance to help out.
“There are several school districts in Pennsylvania that have educational foundations that work to help out school districts in these types of situations,” teacher Brad Hatter said. “We challenge you to look inside your hearts because you are making life and career-altering decision.”
Hatter’s wife, district social worker Tonya Hatter, spoke a little later. During his remarks, her husband commented on her advanced stage of pregnancy.
“Instead of concentrating on having a healthy baby, she is having to worry about this situation, these kids and whether or not she has a job,” Brad Hatter said.
Mrs. Hatter spoke to the board with tears in her eyes, as members of the Millersburg Area Education Association and parents stood in the audience for support.
“Two counselors cannot do my job,” she told the board. “A guidance counselor cannot offer the support or the programs that I can. I am asking the board to reconsider, not because of my situation, but because of the kids.”
“Because of the cuts that you are making, you are denying a well-rounded education for your students. To the students here tonight, be prepared to go to HACC (Harrisburg Area Community College) for the courses you need to make up,” said resident Jessica Paul.
Members of the audience cheered when resident Meredith Savage spoke, releasing some pent up venom toward administration, starting with board solicitor Frank Clark.
“In looking at the bills, Mr. Clark charges the district $280 per hour for his services,” Savage told the board. There are alumni around that would bill the district approximately $100 less an hour. If you are looking for places to cut, I can think of some better ways to spend your money.”
She then turned to Haupt, talking about how an educational foundation would help — if Haupt would be present more.
“You came to the board meeting with your family in tow, but you have not purchased a home in Millersburg and your children have not registered here yet,” Savage said to Haupt. “I don’t know if you know this but you have earned the nickname of Oz. You are like a man behind the curtain, who no one is supposed to see. Why are the cuts good enough for the children of the district, but not yours?”
After Savage’s speech, the crowd gave her a standing ovation.
Several students spoke as well during the public comment period, saying that if the cuts went through they didn’t want to be students anymore.
“You are taking away everything that is good with this district,” one student said. “You are complaining that students are going to cyber school, and my mom wanted to send me there, but I said no because I like it here. These cuts go through, I won’t fight it anymore.
After everyone who wanted to speak did, board president Mark Rothermel asked for a motion on the proposal. Board member J. Bruce Walter made the motion to table the proposal for 30 days to give the public a chance to offer suggestions or solutions. Bruce Kance seconded the motion and the motion was tabled unanimously.
Rothermel then addressed the audience about the delay.
“Your comments have been heard by the board, and we will listen to all suggestions. We all invite you to contact a board member or the district office, and we can look into it. But if we don’t hear viable suggestions or ‘crickets’, we are going to have to make some tough decisions,” he said.