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Future of Union Elementary School in Question

Wednesday, December 11, 2019 @ 12:12 AM

Posted by Ron Wilshire

Jake weeklyRIMERSBURG, Pa. (EYT) – A combination of declining enrollment and budget shortfalls are the main reasons that the Union School Board is considering closing the Union Elementary School and having all K-5 students attend the Sligo Elementary School.

On Tuesday night, the school board held a public meeting to review the plan and their reasons for proposing the changes and also to hear what issues residents had concerning the plan.

Approximately 80 people attended, with most testifying being either teachers, relatives of teachers, or parents of elementary students.

The meeting was held to listen to concerns, but a vote on the project will not take place until March.

Speakers raised questions about the actions of past boards in not devoting funds for gradual improvements over the years; taking funding away from programs; salaries of administrators and secretaries; and the wisdom of having sixth graders with high school students.

Speakers questioned past budget decisions while also maintain a $7 million fund balance.

“One of the things we can offer is small classrooms, and that is beneficial for our students,” said one speaker.

Concerns were also voiced about declining in state-mandated assessment tests of students.

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Superintendent John Kimmel started the meeting with a PowerPoint presentation outlining the issues and how the school district could save money by going from three buildings to two.

“There has been a history of losing teaching positions and programs over the years such as elementary art, a title position, science time, aides rotating space, and cuts in the high school library,” said Kimmel. “Freeing up funding from the upkeep of a physical structure may allow investment in beneficial programming.”

Local revenues: Real estate taxes are $1,487,076.00 or 13.17 percent, and when taxes are raised, this is the number affected. Other local taxes include: earned income tax, occupation tax, per capita tax, interest on investments, utility taxes, and miscellaneous taxes.

Last year total local revenues accounted for 20.76 percent of district funding or $2,346,176.00.

Tax increases: Since 2006, local taxes were raised locally one time for the 2019-2020 school year budget.

During the 2006-2019 years, local taxes were raised $86,069.00 over the past 13 years or .7% of the overall budget.

Real estate taxes were raised $43,769.00 over the past 13 years or 3 percent. Real estate taxes are .35 percent of the overall budget.

Pennsylvania’s average cost to educate a child rose by 43.28 percent between 2006 and 2016.

Union School District’s total revenue increase of 14.42 percent and only an increase of 3.8 percent locally or 3 percent in property tax or approximately $30 per person per year.

The Cost of living in Pennsylvania increased 21.17 percent during that time, and the costs to educate a student have risen by 43.28 percent in Pennsylvania.

Big changes

Salaries are less than inflation now, and mandatory positions were added for safety and security.

PSERS retirement increased from 4.69 percent to 34.29 percent. The state did not make appropriate payments for years and required the school districts to make up the difference.

Healthcare costs have gone up dramatically from 6 to 10 percent annually.

Costs of other services including transportation and fuel costs.

Focus on one elementary physical location would mean:

– No travel for a principal, music teacher, nurse, and PE teacher; and

– Less travel for Special Ed director/psychologist, guidance counselor, and speech therapist.

Estimated costs to update Rimersburg Elementary:

– 2016 feasibility study figures include site construction $47,000.00, general trades $1,348,000.00, heating ventilation air-conditioning $823,000.00, plumbing $190,000.00, electrical $602,000.00, food-service $50,000.00, phone/technological $412,000.00, contingency $175,000.00, financing $75,000.00, for a total of $3,722,000.00.

– Inflation would increase that estimate.

Transportation

Sligo residents include 29 parent transportation or walkers; 95 students picked up by bus and dropped off at Sligo Elementary School; and 140 students picked up by bus and dropped off at Union High School.

Rimersburg residents include 85 students picked up by bus and dropped off at Union High School; 140 students picked up by bus and dropped off at Sligo Elementary School; and 79 parent transport, student drivers, or walkers.

Options for use of Rimersburg Elementary School if it is closed:

  • Keep the building for warehousing – maintenance costs would be associated;
  • Do nothing with the property – minimal maintenance but creating an attractive nuisance;
  • Lease/rent the facility – maintenance of the facility and legalities of being a landlord;
  • Sell the building – no control over who buys the property and for what purpose;
  • Demolish the building and keep the ballfields – associated cost of demolition; and
  • Still accepting community suggestions.

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