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Lancaster board puts students first in budget

Posted on Tuesday, July 2, 2013 at 11:34 am

Amidst impassioned comments from the public, the Lancaster County Board of Supervisors appropriated $15,419,118 to the public school system for fiscal year (FY) 2014.
On June 20, the board held a public hearing where citizens responded to the board’s initial cut of $267,605 that was made on June 6.

Citizens also addressed a letter from Superintendent Dr. Daniel Lukich to John Mann, director of operations and 14 school maintenance employees.

Previously, the board followed the recommendation of Retired Assistant County Administrator Col. Jack Larson, who suspected the schools would have up to $900,000 in unspent funds at the end of FY 2014.

In his letter, Lukich referred to Larson as a “paid advisor” and drew particular attention to the board’s prior decision to reduce the Operations and Maintenance category of the school board-approved budget from $1,555,232 to  $1,100,000.

“This is a $455,232 reduction in budget and no other school category can help to replace the loss,” said Lukich.

Lukich, however, also noted in his letter that “all the other categories were either increased, held harmless or only modestly reduced.”

Furthermore, Lukich said the supervisors “are within their legal right to allocate funds by category, but cannot stipulate how the funds are to be spent beyond that point.”

Therefore, according to Lukich, the schools can allocate the money at their own discretion and need not abide by the board of supervisors’ categories.

Even so, Lukich told maintenance employees in his letter that the board’s decision on the budget could result in a loss of their wages, hours, benefits and positions that would become effective between August and September.

“In the end result our ‘School Budget Prevailed’ in all other categories except yours and the result will be a far lower degree of facility and maintenance and upkeep as well as appearance from the outside, including grounds and fields,” said Lukich.

Larry Cox, one of the 14 employees to whom Lukich was referring, questioned why their jobs were in danger.

“We’ve got a contract that was only for 45 days, so come August, we don’t know if we’re going to have a job or not,” said Cox.

School employee William Hubbard said it bothered him that he and his fellow custodians may be laid off for reasons that he claimed they didn’t create.

“We’re just caught in between the numbers and we can’t understand what is really happening,” said Hubbard.

Larson, who refuted Lukich’s claims that he was paid by the county for scrutinizing the FY 2013 budget, re-emphasized his concerns over school spending.

“You have had a very high amount of money that is going to the schools…relative to other localities in the Commonwealth,” said Larson. “And yet, you have teachers that are underpaid, money in an instruction category that wasn’t spent and teachers not hired.”

Monte Jackson said the board should bring in an independent consultant to review their financial system and not base their determination on one person’s observation.

“If we have somebody who is trying to…make the budget to work for them, then we need to see this and try to rectify this,” said Jackson.

Charlie Costello said he did not believe that any of the supervisors singled out the 14 maintenance employees and made plans to take away their jobs, while agreeing with Larson that the board should work together with the school board in joint sessions to work out issues with the school budget.

“You’ve done it in the past and you can do it again,” said Costello. “I know people on both sides and…I can wager that nobody will lose their job over this.”

According to Tupponce, Lukich did not attend the public hearing due to personal business.

Dist. 2 Supervisor and Lancaster Middle School Assistant Principal Ernest Palin addressed public opinion that either Lukich or the school board was pretending to cut maintenance employees in order to force supervisors to give more money to LCPS.
“I don’t believe that,” said Palin. “I’m looking at 17 or 18 individuals that the present budget…could dramatically affect.”

Dist. 3 Supervisor and Lancaster High School teacher Jason Bellows said decisions regarding school employees were entirely up to the school board.

He did, however, recommend that some movement be made from other categories in the budget to alleviate the previous cut to maintenance.

Bellows then made the motion to appropriate $15,419,118 to the schools, which the board approved unanimously.

It is important to note that the appropriations recommended by Bellows had been listed and printed out prior to the start of the public hearing.

The appropriation included a $101,723 increase from the board’s initial recommendation of $14,732,395 to the school’s operating budget on June 6 and $585,000 for food service.

The operating budget for Lancaster County Public Schools (LCPS) is categorically arranged and features $165,882 less than the county’s appropriation of $15 million for FY 2013.

While supervisors set an operating budget of $14,834,118 for the schools, it is anticipated that, for FY 2013, LCPS will have spent $14,850,000 and returned $150,000 to the county as of June 30.

The board allocated $11,040,000 to instruction, $500,000 to technology, $668,028 to administration and health, $1,100,000 to transportation and $1,438,695 to operations and maintenance. A debt service of $87,395 was also factored into the operating budget.

Within the allocations, the board returned $338,695 of $383,695 to operations after having considered the drastic nature of their previous cut on June 6.

The largest decrease came in the form of a $100,000 reduction to health administration in comparison to FY 2013.

The instruction category includes a 3 percent raise for all school employees, as well as provisions for the hiring of a music teacher at Lancaster Primary School.