York City school budget with staff, program cuts up for final approval Wednesday

York City’s school board on Wednesday is expected to vote on a budget containing a slew of staff and program cuts.

The preliminary budget includes 44 position cuts, including 32 teachers. It also reduces  program budgets, freezes salaries for teachers and administration, and eliminates the Cornerstone and Restorative Justice programs.  The cuts are part of a $6.2 million, district-wide effort to reduce spending.

It would boost taxes to the district's cap of 4.2% — the first increase since 2012 —adding $113 to a bill on a home assessed at $79,950, the median value in the district, based on recent estimates.

Officials noted any updates will be discussed publicly at Wednesday's board meeting.

"Curtailment of programming is difficult and is certainly not popular," said Superintendent Andrea Berry at the board's June 8 committee meeting. "Nonetheless with the financial situation that we are facing, as well as the changes that are needing to be made, it’s our only option."

The board has scrambled to find  ways to shift money and avoid some cuts, including discussion of further reduction of its Appell performing arts budget and elimination of contracted armed guards.

The Appell Center for the Performing Arts offers a message of hope shortly after 8 p.m. in York City, Friday, March 27, 2020. Gov. Tom Wolf added York County to the stay-at-home order earlier in the day in hope of preventing further COVID-19 coronavirus infection. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Board members are also still seeking alternatives to cutting behavior specialists and library aides, reductions that last month caused outcry when the preliminary budget was unveiled. 

More:Draft York City school budget would ax 32 teachers

More:York City could ax 44 jobs amid budget crisis

Behavior specialists would be "a vital aspect to parents and children," especially in adjusting from the pandemic, said board member Margie Orr.

York City School Board President Margie Orr speaks during a Celebration of Life service held in honor of civic leader Raymond "Ray" Crenshaw  at Bishop Small Memorial AME Zion Church in York City, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Berry said the district can shift money around, but regardless, the $6.2 million in spending cuts proposed in May must be covered.

The district last summer was not released from its financial recovery status — a designation given by the state in 2012 that enacted a mandated recovery plan and state overseer.

More:Here's why state didn't release York City School District from financial recovery

In order for the state to approve release, the district cannot use any of its fund balance to cover expenses, and the $6 million it spent to maintain recovery plan programs this year would nearly deplete next year's fund balance.

And that situation is only likely to worsen, said business manager Richard Snodgrass, as the district was anticipating a $2.5 million increase in state funding, which was instead flat funded this year because of COVID-19.

York City Education Association President Jeff Werner said Monday that if the options were remaining in recovery or cutting more than 40 positions, the former is the preferable choice. 

The union represents more than 450 professional staff in the district.

York City school board members Arleta Riviera (left) and Cassandra Liggins (middle), along with Superintendent Andrea Berry, listen to school police Chief Michael Muldrow explain the Juvenile Violence Truancy Initiative, which was approved by the board Wednesday, Jan. 22.

"I think what Dr. Berry is trying to do is admirable," he said. "I don’t think that long-term that’s the best idea."

The district is not going to get out of recovery this year, he said, and the last time there were a large number of furloughs, in 2012, it caused many families to leave for charters, exacerbating financial issues because of less per-student funding.

Werner recommends "taking a bite" out of the deficit rather than eliminating it entirely by boosting tax collection rates and cutting back on positions that are not associated with direct instruction so that students aren't losing out on face-to-face relationships.

More:York City School District honors 35 teachers for student growth

Snodgrass supports the cuts because there are many health and safety costs yet unknown. For example, if the district is required to change air filters more than one or two times a year, that could be another $60,000, he said.

And York City not the only district facing significant deficits.

Spring Grove Area’s school board on Monday approved a resolution to the general assembly seeking permanent waivers for unfunded or underfunded mandates, citing a projected $6 million deficit because of the pandemic.

Though the budget predicament is worse than normal for York City, it’s not an entirely unusual situation, Snodgrass said, as there is often uncertainty in budgets.

Since final district budgets must be passed by June 30, board members are again considering passing a budget on the contingency that they may reopen it for further adjustments when they have a clearer picture of costs and federal revenue.

Werner said this would likely be too late for furloughed staff members, though, who are not going to stick around on the possibility that their positions are brought back.