'Wouldn’t wish on anybody': York City school board makes deep cuts

York City's school board on Wednesday approved a $155.8 million budget with position and program cuts beyond the $6.2 million in cuts proposed in May.

Two school police officers, the athletic and assistant athletic directors, the district's performing arts program, an additional teacher, the attendance office supervisor and contracted after-hours security guards were the new eliminations.

The district's May announcement to cut 44 positions — 32 of them teachers — drew strong pushback from the York City Education Association, a union representing more than 450 professional staff in the district.

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"Many of these cuts would directly impact class size and reduce the number of adults who would directly interact with students," said Clovis Gallon, a high school teacher who spoke for the union before Wednesday's vote.

York High Head Coach Clovis Gallon directs his team as York High competes against Northeastern during boys' basketball action at Northeastern High School in Manchester, Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018. Northeastern would win the game 75-53. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Gallon read a list of alternative suggestions for the board to consider, including more cuts to the administration and shortening the school day.

A petition shared by the association urging board members not to act prematurely on a budget that could halt  progress the district has made in the past few years had about 300 signatures as of Thursday afternoon.

The additional cuts were to offset $2.5 million the district will not be receiving in state funding after the state's education budget was flat-funded because of COVID-19.

Though the district will receive about $3.7 million in federal funding to address pandemic-related costs, it might not be enough, said David Diffendal, who spoke for business manager Richard Snodgrass on Wednesday.

One of the biggest costs could be transportation, he said, as social distancing could cause the need for twice as many buses, upping usual costs of $2.7 million to $5.4 million.

"The situation that you are in now with the budget is a situation I wouldn’t wish on anybody. It’s a cycle that our district goes through," said city council member Sandie Walker.

Sandie Walker, York City Councilwoman, received the Elected Official of the Year Award.

She encouraged residents to elect state lawmakers who will make changes to help the city's underfunded school district.

"If you don’t vote, they don’t listen and we continue to be in this cycle," Walker said.

With pressure on board members to pass a budget by June 30, there was some confusion among members who were under the impression that they had to pass the budget as it stands Wednesday but could still reopen it.

"We don’t want to box ourselves in in saying we can’t take another look at the budget," said board member Margie Orr. "But if things change in Harrisburg, we do have the right to open this budget."

However, district solicitor Jeff Gettle said that usually only happens if the state budget is approved after June 30 — but the education portion has already been approved for the next 12 months.

If circumstances do change, however, Gettle said reopening the budget is not out of the question.

The board voted 7-1-1 to approve the budget. Board member Carman Bryant voted no, and Orr abstained.

The budget includes the district's first tax hike since 2012. Taxes will increase to the district's cap of 4.2%, or $113 more annually for residents, based on the district's median home sale price of $79,950, according to recent estimates.

Carman Bryant

Superintendent Andrea Berry has been adamant about the spending reduction as a measure that is absolutely necessary for the continuing health of the district.

But there are those who say the losses will have a far worse effect and hinder good progress the district has made since 2012 — when it was put on a state-mandated recovery plan, along with three other districts.

"We shouldn’t rush out of recovery, but we should do so gradually and do our best not to raise taxes," said resident Ryan Supler.

Since going into financial recovery in 2012, the district reduced its debt by $51 million and built its fund balance by nearly $16 million, officials reported last May. And by November, it had three years of academic growth on state assessments.

More:York City district aims to recover 75 students with 'aggressive outreach' campaign

Yet in order to maintain its recovery plan, the district has had to keep spending its fund balance — which the state will not allow if the district wants to exit recovery.