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Easton Area School Board looks to close $4.2 M budget shortfall

By Kevin Lechiski, WFMZ.com Reporter, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Jan 15 2013 10:27:05 PM CST
Updated On: Jan 17 2013 07:28:07 AM CST
EASTON, Pa. -

Faced with the looming specter of a $4.2 million budget deficit the Easton Area School Board discussed several options during Tuesday night’s Standing Committee meeting, including placing a substantial tax increase up for voter referendum on the primary election ballot.

Should the board vote to stay within the 2.1 percent tax cap rate, a voter referendum would not be required, according to statements by Chief Operating Officer Michael Simonetta on Tuesday night. However anything above that rate could be placed up for vote. The total tax hike needed to fund the entire $4.2 million amount would be 7.5 percent.

Board members instructed Simonetta to flesh out other options, including applying for exceptions with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that could reduce the deficit to about 5 percent.  The board is expected to vote on the matter at the January 29th meeting.

The deadline for the referendum question is March 22nd, according to Simonetta. The primary election is scheduled for May 21st.

“It may be a good idea to ask the voters ‘do you want your taxes raised seven-and-a-half percent,'” noted board Member Frank Pintabone. “I think it’s something we should definitely discuss."

“It’s a very interesting philosophical question for this board,” added board Member Robert Moskaitis.

The board also has the option, of course, of doing some type of compromise to reduce the deficit, including taking money out of the general fund, or finding additional cuts to put forth a more modest tax increase or eliminate one entirely.

In other business Tuesday night, the board discussed improved security measures throughout the district. Several options were discussed, including adding additional key pads to buildings, district-wide swipe access which would cost about $160,000 and renovation of all buildings to include "man traps" which would be a type of holding area for individuals entering a district building, which would cost between $400,000 to $450,000.

“I think this is something that is better done sooner rather than later,” Moskaitis said of increased security measures.

“When it comes to security we should be proactive,” added Vice President William Rider.

And the board also agreed to move to general board review that beginning with the current ninth grade class, a graduation requirement of a minimum of four credits in each math and science for a total of 26.5 credits at Easton Area High School. To accomplish this agenda, four additional teachers would need to be called back, costing the district between $400,000 to $500,000, according to Stephen Furst, director of teaching and learning.