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Business manager recommends earmarking big chunk of projected school surplus balance to pay for pensions

By Len Righi, WFMZ.com Reporter
Published On: Oct 28 2013 11:13:32 PM CDT
Whitehall Coplay School Board

Administrators in one Lehigh County school district are trying to take the sting out of looming increases in pension costs.

Whitehall-Coplay business manager Robert V. Strauss recommended Monday that $2.14 million of a projected $6.1 million surplus fund balance from the 2013-14 school year be put in to a committed fund earmarked to pay pension costs.

"We've held off as long as we can go," Strauss told the Whitehall-Coplay school board's Finance and Personnel Committee. "We'll have to draw down on out committed funds [to pay the pension costs]."

A 2014-15 budget is scheduled to be presented in December or January, and be given tentative approval by the board in February. Final approval expected in June.

Strauss recommended placing almost $4 million into an unreserved fund, which would bring the district to within 1 percent of the amount it could legally put into such a fund and still ask property owners to pay higher taxes.

The money in the unreserved fund could be use to pay for unexpected expenses or improvements that have not yet been budgeted for, such a security upgrade being contemplated security at the Middle School, Strauss said.

The security update was brought up at an Operations and Transportation Committee meeting earlier in the afternoon.

The committee encouraged Schools Supt.John Corby to arrange a meeting with architect Robin Breslin to discuss the matter.

Corby had been in contact with the state police about helping with the upgrade, but said the state police would not be able to help the district quickly enough.

Strauss reported that the district will be only minimally impacted by the Affordable Care Act, provided the district keeps close track of the number of hours worked by certain employees.

The district has 408 workers that qualify for health-care coverage under the new law, Strauss said, but 25 of them -- 6.13 percent -- do not get it, Strauss said.

If the district does not reduce that number to 5 percent or less, it could be fined $816,000 -- $2,000 for each of its health-care eligible workers -- starting in 2015, Strauss pointed out.

However, 12 of the 25 workers not getting health insurance are summer employees, and their work schedule could be scaled back to under 30 hours a week, Strauss said.