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Divided school board holds off on budget-cut decisions

By Len Righi, WFMZ.com Reporter
Published On: Feb 28 2013 11:22:50 PM CST
Updated On: Mar 01 2013 05:57:17 AM CST
LANSFORD, Pa. -

A divided school board in Carbon County chose to delay cuts in personnel and programs that many members say are inevitable.

The Panther Valley School Board split 5-4 three times Thursday night in voting to table proposed cuts that would have shaved the salaries of three librarians, one elementary technology teacher, one special education teacher and a part-time high school language teacher from the 2013-14 budget.

School board member Richard Zabroski made the initial move to table the proposed cuts. He said he understands that "across the board" cuts will have to be made, "but I want to know what non-education cuts are being made first." Board vice president David Hiles, secretary Michelle Markovich and members Roy Angst and Irene Genther backed Zabroski.

School board president Jeff Markovich, treasurer Anthony DeMarco and members Bill Hunsicker and Koreen Nalesnik didn't want the delay, and a few of them were clearly unhappy as the majority won vote after vote. A testy Jeff Markovich said he will propose cutting busing and the ROTC program at the next budget and finance committee meeting at 6 p.m. March 6.

The delay was welcome news to many of the more than 60 people who packed the board room of the middle school for the meeting. Ten speakers, including several teachers, addressed the board. All of them spoke against the proposed cuts, and a few implored the board to wait before making any decision.

The board is trying to close a $1.8 million hole in a proposed $22 million spending plan that was approved last month.

Property owners are looking at a 2-mill tax hike, their first in three years. Taxes for the average homeowner with a house assessed at
$25,000 will pay $1,450 -- $50 more than this year -- according to business manager Kenneth Marx Jr. One mill raises about $150,000 in revenue.

The proposed cuts that were tabled Thursday night would trim about
$460,000 from the deficit, said Supt. Rosemary Porambo.

The superintendent spent 15 minutes explaining to the board and the people in attendance why the cuts are necessary. She singled out the money the district must pay to cyber schools and the increasing costs of special education and teacher pensions.

Porambo said the district's general fund balance will drop to $3.9 million by the end of this school year, compared to $5.3 million at the end of the 2011-2012 school year. That number is expected to fall to $1.5 million at the end of the 2013-14 school year, and by the end of the following year, "we will be running in the red. We will not have enough to cover out bills."

Porambo said the proposed budget cuts are "a sign of the times. ...
We're cutting into muscle. We're cutting into vital organs. I'm shaken."

"And," she added, "unfortunately this is not the end. There will be another round next month, and another after that, all the way until June."