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Clarion County Career Center Also Tightening Belt; Director Says ‘Doing What We Need To Do’
SHIPPENVILLE, Pa. (EYT) – The Clarion County Career Center is confident that it is doing everything it can to hold down budget costs following a “no” vote by the Clarion Area School Board last week because the proposed budget required an overall 4.3 percent increase and nearly a 19 percent increase for Clarion Area.
CCCC Director Kirk Atwood points out that despite the number of budget decreases or level funding since 2013-14, the budget submitted for next year is still lower than the one in 2013-14.
“I think that shows that we are tightening our belt here, as well,” Atwood said.
“We’re doing what we need to do. We fix things ourselves here where we can. For example, we had an issue with our salt spreader this year, and between our automotive technologies and welding programs, we corrected that issue in-house. It cost us nothing, but we had quotes in here for thousands of dollars to replace it, and we said we could fix that in-house and save that money. We do those things constantly because we have that technology.”
However, the big-ticket item was a failing HVAC system, and since the career center is not allowed to retain funds from its annual operations in a fund balance, this was not a project that could be delayed or “band-aided.” While the career center has tried to do its part over the years with “band-aid” solutions as much as possible, according to Atwood, this problem required the “big fix.”
“Our HVAC unit started to go on the fritz, and whenever we got some quotes on it this winter, they were band-aid quotes, and we were getting some pretty significant numbers. At this point, because we are operating at so bare bones, I needed to look at a way of fixing that HVAC unit so that we can have heat here in the winter. Right now in our computer networking program, it is leaking, and we have a bucket collecting water, and it is not something we can put off any longer.”
CCCC budgets over the years show the financial dilemma facing the school. It has seen a 3.35 percent cut in 2013-14, a 7.01 percent cut in 14-15, a 1.06 percent increase in 15-14, a .06 percent increase in 16-17, a .26 percent increase in 17-18, and the proposed 4.37 percent increase for next year.
Clarion Area Superintendent Mike Stahlman advised his board that the vote to not approve the budget was more of a way to send a message, but it would likely be approved by a majority of the seven member schools.
“I understand the frustration,” Atwood said. “Everything costs more. We’re dealing with the same pension obligations, the same health insurance increases, the same salary increases—at some point; if we would have the same consistent one or two percent increases since 2013 as well, then we wouldn’t have been in the position of needing a four. It’s just that we took such big hits over those years, and now we have to make that up some way.”
There are other budget challenges for CCCC, and Atwood detailed how they may change.
“We’re definitely doing our part here and not spending willy-nilly,” continued Atwood. “We’re combining positions next year—our guidance counselor is retiring, and we’re combining that position with our special education coordinator. Some of the recruitment is being spread out among administration and staff members. We’re doing everything we can do to tighten our belts, too.”
“We have a long-term substitute in one of our programs, and we’re budgeting that it may be at the top of the scale when it is filled, but it could be much less than that. We already have some saving in there because when the budget was presented, our insurance costs were much higher than the actual number that came back. We know we have savings there, as well. There are several places within our budget where that 4.3 percent is not even going to be the accurate percentage because we already know we have some areas where the numbers are going to be coming down.”
The charges for member schools are based on some basic standards, according to Atwood.
“The way that the numbers are figured out is based on the total operating shares for all of our schools, count the bond payments that we are still doing based on the expansion back in 2003, and then divide that by the total number of applications which comes out to 333. When this was done, that gives us the cost per pupil and multiply that times the number of students enrolled and applications.”
The question of state subsidies also enters into the costs to the schools, although the CCCC does not retain any of the subsidy money. Clarion Area has long maintained that its state subsidy is much lower than other school districts in Clarion County.
Atwood just received the new subsidy number for the participating school districts at the CCCA in the projected state number for 2018-19. The new subsidy numbers include AC Valley, $65,311; Clarion Area, $36,049; C-L, $47,543; Keystone, $93,660; North Clarion, $32,505; Redbank, $96,556; and Union at $49,583.
“That’s a state formula that they send the funds here (career center), and we send it straight back to the school district,” Atwood said. “We don’t save any of it here. It’s all based on the state formula, and there’s nothing we can do to adjust that.”
The HVAC replacement problem is also problematic because of the inability of the CCCC to create a fund balance.
“The way we are set up is we don’t have the ability to have funds left over at the end of the year,” Attwood continued.
“Whatever funds we have left over at the end of the year, we send back to the districts based on their enrollments. They get reconciliation money at the end of the year.”
“Whatever money we have left, we send back. We don’t have the luxury of putting that into a fund that we can spend. We did have one capital reserve fund with a little over $100,000 in it, and we intend to use some of that on the HVAC, but if we spend the full thing on the HVAC, and if anything else happens with the building, we are out of luck.”
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