Financial crisis at Tri-Valley

By Rebecca Zemencik, Managing Editor •

Teachers, programs to be cut

HEGINS – Nothing brings members of the public to a meeting of the school board, than when the school is facing a financial crisis. That’s where Tri-Valley School District is at right now, as many other school districts in the state are also feeling the pinch.

The board held a special meeting May 23 for the sole purpose of adopting the $13.7 million proposed budget. A budget that is going to raise real-estate taxes, cut programs and teachers.

Prior to the vote for the preliminary budget, the board and the public heard from several teachers of Tri-Valley and the father of one of those teachers who will be losing his job.

Amanda White, an English teacher at the high school and fiance of Ryan Wagner, a civics teacher who also has certification in library sciences, and will be losing his job, addressed the members of the board first.

“I have been a teacher here for nine years and this is where I met my future husband, Ryan, a man who goes above and beyond what his contract calls for,” said White. “We learned about a week ago that Ryan wasn’t going to have a job after this school year.”

White went on to list all her fiance’s accomplishments at Tri-Valley. He teaches a civics course and does a library rotation. He has also served as a former coach of the girls soccer team, was instrumental in bringing the Warrior Challenge to Tri-Valley and raising more than $23,000 for the PA Wounded Warriors. She also noted that recently she and Ryan were part of a curriculum committee in order to come up with ways for the schedule to better serve the high school students.

“I know this may appear as an easy fix to the district to just cut Ryan’s position, but cutting library from the students would have a huge impact on future test scores and the students will suffer,” said White.

“This has come as a shock and a surprise to say the least,” said White. “Ryan and I have purchased land here in this community and were planning to marry and build a home in August. I feel like the district is sending the message that you don’t want families like Ryan and I to live here and be part of this community. Ryan has been dedicated to this community.”

Ryan Wagner took the mic after his fiance. “I realize I walk a fine line addressing you tonight,” said Wagner. “I know the district is in a financial crisis and I’m not here to argue that one teacher or the other is better to cut. I know you are obligated to act in the best interest of the school,” said Wagner. “I am proud to be a graduate of Tri-Valley and I carried that with me everywhere I went. I was honored and dedicated to working here at Tri-Valley. Have you considered my family history here at Tri-Valley? My uncle served as principal for several years; my father served on the school board for 16 years; my mother volunteered for many years in the elementary school before being hired.”

“Have you considered the message that will be sent to the remaining staff at Tri-Valley in making this particular decision?” he asked. “As an optimist, I believe in this difficult time, you have an opportunity to minimize the damages and even improve our school district with the right decisions. With an analogy fitting to this area, I hope you take this opportunity to cut the fat. At the same time, I hope you aren’t making a mistake by discarding a lot of meat.”

“It’s easy to look at the financial implications facing the district,” said Daniel Wagner, father of Ryan. “Believe me, I know, I sat up there in your position for 16 years. “The board’s decision also effects families that have decided to set roots here. Some of the district’s good teachers may be looking elsewhere for employment.”

Adam Dietrich, librarian and history teacher also addressed the board and paraphrased Shel Silverstein’s book, “The Giving Tree.”  Dietrich’s been a teacher for almost 14 years and he expressed the importance of library and encouraging critical thinking and the evaluation of what is being read.

“We need to give everything that we have to offer,” said Dietrich. “We must think carefully. We must appreciate everything and we must not forget, or take lightly what people have given with an open heart to our school. This is our home, this is all of our families, this is Tri-Valley.”

Joanne Love, a parent in the district also addressed the board expressed a need for improved communication between the board the public. As a librarian, she also said the district risks losing library service funding if it doesn’t have a full-time librarian.

“I’m almost to the point where I’d rather merge with another district, rather than lose services,” said Love.

The proposed budget will include an increase to the real-estate millage to 1.066 mills from 33.316 to 34.382 mills. The board raised the real-estatae tax to the maximum allowable without a referendum.

Other tax levies will remain the same, including: per capita section 511, $5; per capita 679, $5; occupation tax, $230; earned income tax, 0.5 percent of salaries/wages; realty transfer tax, 1 percent; local service tax, $10.

Just before the vote for the proposed budget, Kelly Carter, head of the finance committee, presented a few slides and information to those in attendance concerning the financials of the district.

“I’m happy to see all of you in attendance and next time I hope you come and bring your friends and neighbors, not just to board meetings but also to committee meetings,” said Carter. “I heard your plea for more communication and I’m trying to accomplish this, as she shared upcoming dates of meetings

“We’ve held off as long as we can, and the buck has to stop tonight,” said Carter. “Instead of being reactive, we have to plan to move forward and be proactive.”

She showed several slides of figures demonstrating why the district is in a financial crisis. She pointed out that over the past seven years, there’s been an 84 percent reduction in the district’s unassigned fund balance, which is the district’s safety net. In 2010, the fund balance was at $1.8 million; but in 2017, it had dropped to $284,967. Carter said that’s a trend facing many districts.

“One of the biggest increases, at a whopping 384 percent over the past seven years, is the Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) rate,” said Carter. “That’s dictated by the state and is an amount that’s out of our control.”

She also noted that Cyber Charter School is another huge expense to the district.

“Cyber/charter schools may not cost the parents anything to enroll their child, but all the taxpayers are footing the bill. This is anther expense we can’t control,” said Carter.

Carter said the district needs to take the next six to nine months to rebuild and move forward. She suggests that the community come together with the faculty, board members, support staff and administration and all work together for Tri-Valley and get the fund balance built back up.

The board took the final vote after Carter’s presentation. The proposed $13,734,982 budget passed on a 5-4 vote. Voting in favor were directors Jerry Beaver, Diane Dietrich, Carl Shankweiler, John Schmeltz and Roger Heidlebaugh. Those opposed were Kelly Carter, Guy Julian, Jennifer Reed and David Miller.

“There will be staff realignment in the areas of music, art, library, health and physical education, social studies, elementary education and special education,” said Superintendent Dr. Mark Snyder.

Library services throughout the district are being evaluated to best provide access to all students. Dr. Snyder noted there are several staff members who have library certification.

“Three retirement positions are not going to be filled and the alteration and curtail of programs could lead to additional positions not being retained,” said Dr. Snyder.

He also said the board is looking into the possibility of having a ‘pay to play’ program put into place for athletics and other activities in the district.

The final adoption of the budget will be conducted at a special meeting June 27, at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium. The budget is now on display for the public at the district office and is accessible during regular office hours Monday through Friday.


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