The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

May 5, 2013

Fiscal fate looms

4.85-mill school levy on ballot

BROOKFIELD — Come Tuesday, it will be up to Brookfield voters to decide what kind of school district they want, based on whether they are willing to pay a bit more in taxes to keep the district afloat and out of state control.

Superintendent Tim Saxton, along with school directors and a levy committee, have been working to spread the word about exactly why the district is in the financial position it is, and all are hoping voters are willing to throw their support behind the children in the district. It has been 18 years since an operational levy was passed in Brookfield.

Facing a growing deficit of nearly $1.1 million, the district has been under a fiscal watch by the state Department of Education since 2005.  Operating costs have been slashed by $500,000 by laying off teachers, cutting electives and reducing supplies, but not those changes aren’t enough to keep the district out of financial trouble, Saxton said.

The district is asking for a 4.85-mill property levy on Tuesday’s primary election ballot, and Saxton said if only the parents of students in the district voted yes, it would likely be enough to pass. Still, he said, he’d like everyone to consider what kind of school district the community wants. “The quality of the school district is something that affects everyone in the community,” he said.

Supporters have posted signs, created an online Facebook presence, made telephone calls, gone door-to-door and even hosted a free informational pancake breakfast, but Saxton said he doesn’t have a sense of which way the vote will go.

“I’ve talked to people who will support it, I’ve answered calls from those who have questions and I have heard from some who absolutely won’t go for it. We’ll see on Tuesday,” he said.

The tax increase amounts to about $8 a month for those residents whose homes are valued at $65,000. “And that’s the average value of a home in Brookfield,” he said. For those whose homes are worth more, in the $150,000 range, it amounts to about $20 a month.

If the levy passes, it will generate $606,000 a year for the district, money that will be used to restore staffing and allow the district to offer electives and advanced classes that keep it competitive with other districts. School directors and Saxton have all said they are concerned that if Brookfield schools can’t offer what the students need, there may be an exodus of students to other districts. Right now, the district has an enrollment of about 1,200.

Saxton blames the financial crisis on a steady stream of cuts in state funding, along with a loss of money to the ever-growing business of charter schools. Because the money “follows the student,” Saxton said,  the state funding for those who attend school online is given to the charter schools, which Saxton said do not provide the same quality as public education, nor do they share the same operating costs. Brookfield Local School District has lost several million dollars to charter schools in the last 10 years.

However, because he understands that some students need that option, he plans this summer to roll out Brookfield’s online programming, both as a way to educate local students in a way that accommodates them, while also garnering some of the state funding that is lost.

“We have to get creative. We can do both, online and brick and mortar. We’ll give them the capabilities of the Warrior Academy. Anyone who is interested in that can contact me. We are concerned with the kids’ education, and while the money is important, it isn’t the priority,” he said.

But he admits that right now, he is spending way more time focusing on the money than he’d like to. With a copy of a book called “Stretching the School Dollar” sitting in front of him, Saxton said his focus recently has had to be on finances, both in keeping the school operating and reaching out to the public for help. “That really should only be about a quarter of my responsibilities,” he said.

If the levy fails, the district will be placed in fiscal emergency, meaning that the state Department of Education will take over the financial reigns and can call for further cuts, some of which may come at a big inconvenience to parents, Saxton said. Officials could ultimately recommend consolidation with a neighboring district, he added.

Several solutions that were discussed – and ultimately rejected – by the levy committee include forcing a pay-to-play policy that would mean additional fees and costs for students participating in sports or other extracurricular activities, and the possible elimination of busing for students who live within a 2-mile radius of the campus. State officials could do both of those, and more, he said.

“Or they could do busing by grade. They may come in and say ‘OK, students in the high school have to find their own way here every morning,” he said.

An audit is under way to determine the exact amount of the district’s debt and once that is done, a special school board meeting will be held to share the information with the public. The “good” news about an emergency declaration is that it paves the way for the district to be able to borrow from a solvency fund.

“We have to pay it back, of course. And we’ll have that loan payment hanging over our head, but we can use that money to hopefully restore some of the cuts we’ve made. We’d like to get back to where we were last year, but we may consider going the technology route, too,” Saxton said.

Text Only
Local News
  • News briefs from April 24, 2014

    April 24, 2014

  • Bus cameras will be listening, too

    Hermitage School District is taking advantage of a recently enacted exemption to the state’s wiretap law in allowing officials to turn on the audio recording capability on school bus and vehicle video cameras.

    April 24, 2014

  • Union, city OK 4-year contract

    Hermitage’s nonuniformed employees have a new four-year contract that gives them average pay hikes of 2.5 percent a year and the opportunity to live outside the city limits, while allowing administrators more flexibility in scheduling.

    April 24, 2014

  • 2 principals to be hired

    Sharpsville Area school directors needed a shove to make a decision but the board voted Tuesday to interview candidates and hire two principals for 2014-15.

    April 24, 2014

  • Prison term upheld for sex offender

    A sex offender challenging a 4- to 8-year prison sentence for a probation violation lost an appeal of that sentence.

    April 23, 2014

  • Man, 24, must register as sex offender for life

    The Ohio man who exposed himself to Sharon girls on their way to school last fall must register as a sexual offender for the rest of his life when he gets out of jail.

    April 23, 2014

  • Man deemed predator – for now

    A former Sharon man was sent to the state prison system Tuesday for corrupting the morals of a teenage girl, but the question of whether his penalties under Megan’s Law will stand could be subject to future legal proceedings.

    April 23, 2014

  • Not even waste will be wasted

    Tom Darby admits he wishes the startup of the anaerobic digestion process at the Hermitage Water Pollution Control Plant had moved along much faster.

    April 23, 2014

  • 3rd Earth Fest draws families to Penn State

    Penn State Shenango’s Earth Fest has become a spring tradition for area residents.
    Families poured into downtown Sharon for the campus’ third annual sustainability celebration.

    April 22, 2014

  • Amish clean Shenango River Volunteers protect Shenango River

    Shenango River Watchers has spent more than a decade working to clean up the Shenango and improve recreational access to its water and banks.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • For many, recycling’s become way of life

    When Pennsylvania mandated curbside recycling for its larger municipalities in 1998 – those with more than 5,000 people – there was grumbling about government interference in the lives of everyday people.

    April 22, 2014

  • Many items can’t be thrown away

    The computer screen in front of you isn’t likely to do you much harm, at least not until it’s tossed in a landfill where the lead-filled components start to leak and eventually find their way into your drinking water, according to Jerry Zona, director of the Lawrence-Mercer County Recycling/Solid Waste department.

    April 22, 2014

  • David Sykes' solar panels Earthworks

    While touring Germany last year, David Sykes spotted solar panels resting in a residential back yard.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Burned using Icy Hot, woman claims

    A Grove City woman has sued Chattem Inc. and Rite Aid of Pennsylvania Inc., alleging she suffered a second-degree chemical burn using one of Chattem’s Icy Hot pain relief products.

    April 21, 2014

  • Family outing Family friendly

    “We’re No. 5’’ isn’t a sports cheer you’ll hear any time soon.
    But considering the lumps the greater area has gotten over the years on economic rankings, it’s an outright victory.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

Featured Ads
AP Video
Sharonheraldnewspaper Facebook Page