Philipsburg-Osceola school board backs off project due to state budget

The Philipsburg-Osceola school board had plans for summer vacation. There were maintenance projects that were scheduled to be done in that period when school was out and facilities weren’t in daily use by hundreds of students.

At least one of those will wait until next year.

The district had opened bids for a parking lot project at the high school. Light poles would be moved from the center of the parking lot to the perimeter. The bulbs would be upgraded for energy efficiency and greater brightness for increased safety. And then the whole parking lot would be repaved.

But with projections on what funds the district will receive from the state courtesy of the newly signed budget, the board has rolled back those plans until next spring.

An intent-to-award bid to Glenn O. Hawbaker Inc. was rejected at Tuesday’s board meeting.

Superintendent Gregg Paladina said only one bid was received for the paving, putting the project about $35,000 over the estimated total cost of $300,000 allotted. Paladina said he didn’t feel comfortable going over budget for the project in light of reduced state funding.

Financial data presented by business manager Michael Conte pointed to potential drops in the district’s Ready to Learn block grant. Conte had budgeted $180,000 more than he now expects the district to receive.

“We will have to adjust for that,” he said.

“We’re going to make do,” Paladina told the board. “Curtailing” the paving portion of the parking lot renovations is part of that, although he and Conte stressed the district’s continued financial health.

“We just don’t want to live too much on capital reserves,” Paladina said.

The money talk led to harsh words for Gov. Tom Corbett, who had delayed signing the General Assembly’s budget without pension reform.

Some board members saw the actions as disingenuous, like Elizabeth Whitehead, who accused him of creating problems. The critique became more vocal as they looked at long-term projections for state pension impacts on the district coffers. P-O’s 2014 contributions to the retirement fund will be just under $2 million. By 2020, it will more than double to $4.4 million.

Board member Sue McGee said the governor is putting the responsibility for the statewide pension issue “on the backs of the teachers.”

Paladina said it also is being placed “on the backs of homeowners,” none of which is good for schools or students.

“No one in Harrisburg is doing anything about it,” he said.

Conte quoted state budget secretary Charles Zogby’s recent comments, comparing the crisis to “a bleeding wound in need of a tourniquet.”

Board member Jim Verbeck had the most aggressive response. At an earlier meeting, he had suggested a class-action lawsuit by school districts against the state on the pension issue. On Tuesday, he renewed that call.