Budget Workshop Offers Hope for ’11-’12 School Year

Posted on January 13, 2011 by


Despite the threat of fierce weather conditions, the Community Budget Workshop scheduled for January 11th occurred as scheduled in the Fleetwood Area High School Auditorium.

Superintendent Dr. Paul Eaken presided over the event alongside the elected school board, board president Tim Heffner, fellow administrators, and business manager Heidi Orth.  The focus of the workshop was to analyze the current financial state of the school district and propose solutions to potential budget crises that the district may face in coming years.

The evening began with an informational presentation during which Eaken provided an overview of the current financial situation and how the budgeting process will progress in coming months.  The foremost concern was the decrease of school revenue because of diminishing real estate values, reduction in state funding, the elimination of federal stimulus money, and the decrease of income tax funding because of greater unemployment.  These limitations come in tandem with what Eaken termed “unfunded mandates,” state and federal requirements that are not supported by increased money from the government; such requirements include transportation costs, records reporting, increased teacher training regulations, and charter school funding.

To proactively anticipate budgetary complications in the coming months, Eaken presented several cost cutting measures designed to maintain the school’s diminishing revenue.  Current plans include athletic cuts, limitations on facility use, employee reduction, elimination of bus runs, supply cuts, and limitations in technology and curriculum review spending.  If more action is required, further bus runs may be cut, teaching positions may be eliminated, departments will continue to decrease spending, and activity fees will be issued for certain extracurricular activities.  In the end, however, Eaken did make clear that the elimination of certain school programs (Driver Education, Japanese, Latin, Elementary Strings) remains an ongoing possibility.

“Based on district projections,” said Eaken, “the district must cut costs for the 2011-2012 school year by $750,000.”

Eaken then opened up the meeting for comments and suggestions from attending community members.  Each person was offered three minutes to share his or her ideas, and while no answers to questions were guaranteed at the January 11th meeting, a Frequently Asked Questions page on the district website (http://www.fleetwoodasd.k12.pa.us) is expected to confront these concerns within the next two weeks.

Community suggestions included potential use of green energy sources, the consolidation of buildings, collaboration between school groups, retirement incentives for senior teachers, and the elimination of certain elective curricula.  The program that was most under attack was the current bussing procedure, which many community members deemed as wasteful and inefficient.  While Eaken proposed reducing three bus runs to a mere two, some community members expressed concern about the prospect of fifth graders being exposed to eighteen-year-olds during daily transportation.

While many supported the district’s attempt to reduce costs with a minimal decrease to school personnel, few seemed open to the notion of a referendum that would potentially increase property taxes beyond the state limit.

Many of the district’s budgeting concerns remain uncertain while the state’s financial plans remain unclear; for this reason, Fleetwood’s budgetary situation remains, as Eaken described it, “vague” and “nebulous.”  In addition to the unfunded mandates, state and federal regulation was the subject of additional criticism by some community members who believed that increased state testing may be putting restrictions on the academic potential of the students.  Many speakers pleaded for continued petitioning of state and national politicians to maintain funding that is commensurate with prescribed regulation.

In addition to offering suggestions for resolving the financial dilemma, many citizens offered heartfelt anecdotes about certain educational programs.  Several individuals defended the need for adequate foreign language instruction and pleaded with board members to maintain the diverse selection of languages offered by the district; defenders of German as a school subject seemed to have the largest following.  Community members also expressed strong support for athletics, prizing its value as a socialization, character-building, and health-maintenance tool.  Others, however, responded by expressing equally strong concern that the focus of community suggestions were too devoted to rescuing sporting teams rather than developing students intellectually.  This line of questioning evolved into concern that budget cuts not restrict the capacity for effective and successful educators to persevere in the district.

Overall, the tone for the evening was relaxed.  Eaken closed the meeting with his sincere gratitude for the community’s time and suggestions.  He then fielded some of the community’s biggest concerns by issuing the following responses:

  • limitations on the weight room only pertain to community usage and not to student usage;
  • grants and sponsorships remain a constant focus of FASD administrators;
  • the operation of the former Fleetwood Elementary School is not a district expense but also does not provide revenue;
  • the relationship with the Tri Valley YMCA does not provide district revenue but does offer additional curricular opportunities for the district;
  • a two-tiered bus schedule would require an alteration of school hours for some grade levels;
  • bussing middle and high school students together has reduced behavior problems in other districts;
  • parents, not the district, fund a majority of field trip experiences;
  • the district has considered offering space in Willow Creek Elementary to the Berks County Intermediate Unit as a means of securing revenue;
  • Richmond Elementary School is not currently being considered for closure.

The workshop concluded with an invitation from Eaken to attend the formal school board meeting immediately following the workshop and to communicate national and state concerns to the appropriate politicians.

Posted in: Zachary Houp