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District considers drastic cuts to address budget 'crisis'

By Ryan Hughes, Reporter, RHughes@wfmz.com
Published On: Mar 26 2012 07:00:00 PM CDT
Updated On: Mar 28 2012 06:11:28 AM CDT

Officials in the Reading School District call it one of the worst financial situations they've ever seen.

READING, Pa. -

Officials in the Reading School District call it one of the worst financial situations they've ever seen.

The district announced Monday night it is facing an estimated $53 million deficit for the 2012-2013 school year.

The budget gap is being called conservative, but district officials said things like overspending, retirement benefits and rising costs now have them left trying to fill the hole.

"The pieces that are problematic also is the lack of revenue and a lot of that has to do with the governor's new budget," said J. Drue Miles, the district's acting superintendent.

The district is up against an estimated $11 million shortfall by the end of this school year.

"If we are able to eliminate the deficit for this year then certainly it lowers it again for next year," said Miles.

Some drastic steps being considered are closing four gateway schools and one elementary school, freezing wages, cutting middle school athletics, laying off teachers and making kindergarten a half-day.

"We're going to have to look through and comb through each alternative to see what we can do and how we close that gap," said Yvonne Stroman, the school board president.

That means possibly raising taxes by 2.8% and dipping into the district's reserve fund. Drastic cuts are inevitable, and the district has at least 24 suggestions for ways to save, officials said.

"We have a number of things in which to choose from. I don't like the menu at all, but it's what we have and it's what our reality speaks to," said Stroman.

The next budget meeting is set for April 4.