The Derry Area School Board at its regular meeting Thursday approved a resolution to operate within the Act 1 index during the 2020-21 budget cycle.

The cost-of-living index caps any property tax increase at 3.6%, or 3.23 mills, Derry Area administrative assistant for business affairs Joe Koluder said. That means the school district, if necessary, is only able to increase taxes to generate a maximum of roughly $436,000 in additional local tax revenue for the upcoming budget.

The value of 1 mill is about $135,000, Koluder noted.

“We’re not asking for exceptions,” Koluder said after Thursday’s meeting. “Now that the board has made this decision, we’ll be working on the budget, the staffing and so forth over the winter, and we’ll do a budget presentation in April to the board.”

After the budget presentation in the spring, Koluder said the board will look to pass a tentative budget in May. The school district must adopt a final budget by June 30.

Koluder said the base index put out by the state is about 2.6%, with Derry Area’s adjusted to 3.6% because it is on the poorer end of area school districts.

The Act 1 index is a state formula regulating real estate tax increases.

“As of right now, our projections are we’re going to stay within the index,” he said. “It’s an estimate at this time and we’ll have to make budget changes accordingly.”

In January, school board members approved a resolution to operate within the index during the 2019-20 budget cycle.

The board in June approved a final 2019-20 budget with a 2-mill increase in property taxes, which increased the tax rate to 89.8 mills. The previous year, school directors approved a final budget with a 5-mill tax increase, the largest single-year hike for the district in years. Before that, it moved forward with a 2.8-mill increase in 2017-18 and a 2.5-mill bump in 2016-17, respectively.

The current school year’s tentative spending plan shows $37.69 million in expenditures, up from $36.53 million in 2018-19. Listed expenditures included $22.1 million for salaries and benefits, $5.1 million for special education, $2.3 million for transportation, $1 million for plant operations and $2.8 million for debt service, along with the fund balance.

Also discussed at Thursday’s meeting:

  • Several students told the board of their hopes to start a middle school girls’ softball program. The students said there are coaches in place for the prospective team and no money would be needed for equipment in the program’s first year. Because of high interest, the students said team tryouts would be held for interested players; the students noted that many schools within Westmoreland County boast middle school softball programs. While details must still be hashed out among school officials, athletic director Brett Miller said the school board would likely vote in January on whether to move forward with the program;
  • Miller said the board could vote next month on one of several field improvement options for Derry Stadium. Last month, the board approved an agreement with Axis Architecture to explore possible upgrades to the field’s playing surface;
  • Board member Nathan Doherty will replace Jodie Edmiston on the school’s athletic committee. Edmiston chose not to run for re-election this year;
  • The board heard a presentation about the STEAM program at Grandview Elementary School;
  • The board heard a second reading of policies related to local board procedures, pupils and memorials of students/alumni.

In other business, the school board approved:

  • A 12-week intermittent family medical leave for Kristin Peterson, effective Nov. 9;
  • A 12-week family medical leave for Theresa Smith, effective Oct. 21;
  • A 12-week family medical leave for Johanna Sobota, effective Oct. 16;
  • A 12-week family medical leave for Norma Batsa, effective Nov. 22;
  • An extended absence for Georgia Letosky, effective July 16;
  • To change the status of Karen Semelsberger from a half-time aide to a four-hour aide at Derry Area Middle School, effective Sept. 30;
  • Daniel Bracken and Thomas Repak as additions to the substitute employees list;
  • To change the status of George Hudak from a seven-hour afternoon custodian to an eight-hour midnight/afternoon custodian at Grandview Elementary School, effective Nov. 11;
  • Jessica Burk, Crystal Campbell, Rebecca Frye, Carol Hester, Blair Kuhns, Scotty Ritenour and Cheyanne Thompson as P.A.L.S. for the 2019-20 school year;
  • To employ Anna DeFabo as musical vocal coach for the 2019-20 school year at a salary set by the negotiated point system;
  • To employ Joanna Markle as elementary online learning coordinator at a prorated salary as per the district teachers’ contract, effective Oct. 14;
  • To employ Sarah Cutlip as a Pre-K Counts paraprofessional, effective Nov. 12, with the hourly rate and benefits as per the teachers’ aide agreements;
  • Request of Kristine Higgs and Greg Ferencak to attend the SAS Institute-Bridging the Skills Gap Conference Dec. 9-11 in Hershey at an approximate cost of $1,660;
  • Request of Jennifer Battaglia to attend the PDE Data Summit March 15-18, 2020, in Hershey at an approximate cost of $1,360;
  • Zack Polinsky, Barry Ellenberger and Adam Beich (wrestling) and Morgan Elrick (swimming/diving) as volunteer coaches for the 2019-20 school year;
  • Additions to the athletic staff;
  • To amend the status of Lucy Bujdos to half-assistant varsity girls’ basketball coach at a salary set by the negotiated point system for an assistant varsity boys’ basketball coach, as per Title IX;
  • For the athletic department to purchase a used EZ GO golf cart at a cost of $2,500 from Theresa Bundy, to be paid out of the general fund;
  • For the athletic department to purchase dumbbells, ranging from 5 to 50 pounds, at a cost of $780 from Webster’s Fitness Products Inc. The items will be paid with capital project funds;
  • Activity reports as of Sept. 30;
  • Addition of Jeffrey Kellichner to the bus drivers and aides list;
  • To appoint Scott Chappell as the open records/Right to Know officer, effective Nov. 8, as required by Act 3;
  • The transfer of $340,437.36 in bond proceeds from the general fund, with $290,437.36 going into the district’s capital projects fund and $50,000 going into the capital reserve fund;
  • Special education rates for the 2019-20 school year with Cove Prep;
  • Agriculture, food and natural resources minutes and advisory board members from March 6;
  • To award a bid for IP phone system upgrades to LV Tech LLC, identified as the lowest responsible bidder, at a cost of $32,961.50, to be funded through a Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency Safe Schools grant;
  • Memorandum of understanding for the vacant BCIT position;
  • Memorandum of understanding for early dismissals;
  • Field trips.

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