Bellefonte school board approves final budget

The Bellefonte Area school board approved the 2015-16 final budget Tuesday.

District fiscal affairs director Ken Bean said the budget will total $47.6 million with a 48.007 millage rate. The rate represents a 1.3 percent increase, down from 1.7 percent at the last meeting and well below the 2.4 percent adjusted index.

“For the average homeowner with an assessed value of $49,773,” he said, “at this rate gives you a $30.08 tax increase for the year.”

Revenues for the budget total $44,835,000, he said, with expenditures of $47.6 million. A total of $2,765,000 was used from the fund balance, leaving $3,329,919, which is within the 7 percent school board policy.

George Stone was the only board member to vote against the budget, saying while he appreciated administrators working on getting the numbers down to where they are, he was frustrated the district missed opportunities to replace people who left.

“I feel like our enrollment has dropped to where we can increase our spending control,” he said.

In other business, Bellefonte Area Education Association President Kim Sharp addressed the board, presenting data regarding grievances that have been filed this year.

“For the public’s knowledge, the teachers association has a process in our contract to work out disagreements with the district,” she said, “so that hopefully we can come to some kind of settlements prior to arbitration.”

If a dispute goes to arbitration, an arbitrator takes on the case and listens to testimony from both parties, she said, costing both sides anywhere from $700 to $1,000, plus costing the district additional funds to pay the district solicitor at a rate of $140 per hour.

This year, the BAEA has filed 12 grievances, she said, and five are heading to arbitration hearings right now. Additionally a grievance won by teachers last year is attempted to be vacated by the board.

“It’s been a few years since our association even took grievances to the board,” she said, “because the predominant feeling was that nothing was ever solved at that level.

“However, this year the grievance committee, comprised of teachers from across the district, felt strongly that the board should be informed, and we want open communications with the board and the possibility of settling situations as they arise.”

Sharp said she contacted 41 fellow associations in the state, seeking how many grievances each one has against their districts. The districts averaged 1.8 grievances each — Bellefonte was the only one that stood out with 12 grievances.

She detailed one grievance headed to arbitration, saying the crux of the issue was the district’s bringing two women from China to teach Chinese classes, yet stipulating that they haven’t looked for a “highly qualified teacher.” The association has considerable questions of the abilities of these instructors versus a qualified teacher.

“There is a real climate of not working together in Bellefonte,” she said, “and there’s no reason most of these issues can’t be worked out.”