Oley Valley Raises Taxes, Furloughs 7

The Oley Valley School Board voted unanimously on June 19 to raise taxes 0.373 mills and furlough seven teachers in its final version of the school’s 2013-14 budget.

The new tax rate raises the millage to 24.93, which means that the annual bill for a property assessed at $100,000 will be about $2,493.

The district did not tap into its roughly $1.8 million in reserves to balance the budget nor did it make any significant cuts to school programs.

The $28.4 million budget, which board president Robert A. Heckman said was the hardest in his 26 years on the board, also included the demotion of two teachers from full time to part time status. He said making the decision to demote and furlough teachers was extremely difficult.

“When you look at the number of names on those lists that are impacted, it is very difficult,” he said. “But we’ve been given a lot of financial situations to deal with, especially from the state, and it’s just very, very difficult being involved with a district trying to perform as it should.”

Heckman said next year’s budget would be worse, thanks to the anticipated sharp increases in retirement benefits mandated by the state. “Funding for the retirement fund is unfair to the constituents of the Oley Valley and to the taxpayers of the Commonwealth,” Heckman said. “But it is a legislative issue, and I hope they will address it.”

School Superintendent Dr. Tracy S. Shank said staff cuts were necessary due to declining enrollment in the district and decreases in state funding. The seven teachers furloughed include four elementary teachers, a middle school art teacher and two high school teachers.

The board also approved 17 faculty transfers, 12 of which involve elementary teachers. Parent Renee Weidner said that while she understood the need for budgetary cuts, she questioned the logic of transferring teachers from one grade to another.

“It saddens us as parents that there are so many teachers being switched at the elementary school. We understand that there needs to be changes and budgetary cuts, but switching the teachers around doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the budget at the elementary level,” she said.

“Swapping out entire grade level teachers -- how will that benefit our children?” Weidner asked.

After the meeting, union representatives Cornelia Maroulis and Lisa Hvizda were asked whether the furloughs would be an issue during upcoming union negotiations, scheduled for July 8.

Teachers have been working without a contract since June of last year.

“We understand that the board needs to present a balanced budget,” Maroulis said. “However, we disagree with how they allocate their funds. We are using our grievance process to make sure that our point is made to the school board.”

Maroulis said there are currently 28 grievances pending. “Every time there is a furlough or demotion, we grieve it. We have to make sure that the person being impacted has a chance to have their rights protected.”

However, not everybody agreed the furloughs and transfers were a bad thing. Resident Cindy Smith, who noted a recent grievance process had been lost by the district, said changes were necessary.

“Nobody wants to switch people around, but we’re in a position that over the last few years, things were not good in this district and now we have the opportunity to make changes. If everybody would give a little bit, teachers included, and the parents, this district can do well.”

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