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Allentown School District battles with budget while learning it's only going to get harder

By Stephen Althouse, WFMZ.com Reporter, news@wfmz.com
Published On: May 23 2013 11:00:03 PM CDT
Updated On: May 24 2013 07:21:37 AM CDT

  

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

Considering the swirling vortex of the Allentown School District’s massive budget shortfall, Thursday night’s board of directors meeting raised more questions about its future than it answered.

An independent audit report prepared by Barbacane, Thornton and Company for Fiscal Year 2012 revealed that the district did indeed have a balanced budget.

As of June 30th of last year the district reported a fund balance of just under $25 million or 11.25 percent of the district’s general fund operating budget for 2011-2012, up from 11.14 percent from the year previous.

The district’s total entity-wide revenues at year’s end nudged just above $236 million, with about $170 million coming from taxes, subsidies and other general revenues, while the remaining amount originated from program-specific revenues in the form of charges for services and grants.

The myriad of accounting terms and numbers during the presentation were secondary in fact to the accounting firm’s analysis of the factors impacting the district’s precarious fiscal future.

During Thursday night’s report, the Barbacane, Thornton and Company report indicated that the “continued escalation of employee health benefits, increases in PSERS, collective bargaining with the district’s professionals…and continued declining support from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the federal government” were cited as concerns.

But the district’s future concerns must be secondary at the moment as the 2013-2014 proposed budget includes laying off teachers, raising taxes by a staggering 8.53 percent that would cost the average homeowner $150.37 additional per year and drawing about $9 million from their fund balance just to make ends meet.

The proposed budget also includes full-day kindergarten, elementary art school classes and elementary school principals at each school after those items were added back to the budget during a May 16th meeting.

On Thursday night Board President Robert Smith noted a familiar refrain when he said that the budget is not finalized and that there would be much more work to do on it before final adoption is required by law no later than June 30th.

Whatever will be included in the final budget will be without Susan Lozada, the executive director of community and student services, and Kelly Rosario, director of professional development, who both tendered their resignations prior to the meeting.

Exactly why Lozada in particular resigned remains a mystery at this point, with much innuendo surrounding discussions on the matter Thursday night.

Director Joanne Jackson, who later walked out of the meeting before it concluded, said the issues that caused Lozada to quit “had been a long time in coming” and “need to come to light.”

Jackson in her first statement of the evening noted that she was shaken after “being verbally abused by a fellow board member” just prior to the start of the public meeting.