No matter how you look at it, the road to a balanced Allentown School District budget is once again full of potholes.
Thursday night’s Finance Committee-of-the-Whole meeting provided some perspective to what officials and the public learned last week: that up to 150 teachers and 11 administrators are in jeopardy of being unemployed by the time a budget is ratified in June.
“This is one of the most difficult times in the history of the Allentown School District,” said Superintendent Russell Mayo of what can only be described as a massive $22.4 million budget gap.
The deficit already has a 2.6 percent tax increase factored in, and taxes could rise up to 9 percent for homeowners.
In an effort to make board members and an overflow crowd of residents cognizant of the impact of the cuts, Mayo disseminated a bevy of facts about where the cuts would come from and tried to assess their impact on students and teachers.
Sixty-nine cents of every dollar the district spends is dedicated to salaries, Mayo noted. With the proposed teacher reductions, class size of teacher to student would increase to 31-to-1 on average, there would be an increase in the number of classes teachers would teach, a reduction would occur in the number of study seminars for teachers and the reductions would impact dual enrollment.
Mayo added that of the proposed 150 cuts, 40 of them would come from William Allen and Dieruff High Schools, and 21 of them would come in elementary schools in the subjects of art, music, physical education and library. The proposed cuts do not discriminate: they impact all grades. Also mentioned Thursday night would be cuts to elementary school instructional coaches.
Mayo and Jack Clark, ASD’s chief financial officer, noted that there are still many moving parts financially that could greatly impact the final budget and Mayo noted at least three times that this was a “worst case scenario.” At this point Mayo said 42 teachers and administrators have decided to accept retirement. They are hoping that number will escalate in the next few months.
Board member Scott Armstrong, warned the overflow crowd that “we’ll be right back here next year” unless Gov. Corbett’s pension reform measures to the public school employees retirement system were enacted.
That comment wasn’t music to ears of teachers union president Debra Tretter. In comments to the board she said that Armstrong is “entitled to his own opinion but he is not entitled to his own facts.”
Tretter portrayed teachers as victims not the perpetrators behind the district’s problems and said the Corbett administration’s continued assault on public education was the real reason behind the problems.
But the drama didn’t stop there. Board member Ce-Ce Gerlach directly questioned Mayo about the 11 cuts to administrators. Mayo responded by saying that six of them would be in the “central office”
“Cuts should come furtherest from the classroom,” Gerlach said. “Are there central administrators we could do without? Yes, the (remaining) ones would have to work harder but so are the teachers.”
The comments drew loud applause from the packed and jammed room.
Earlier in a prepared statement, Mayo noted that he would defer his salary increase considering the dire situation the district faces.