Friday, July 11, 2014

Wilkes-Barre Area looks for savings

School Board seeks ways to save on transportation, retirement costs.

April 03. 2013 11:46PM

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WILKES-BARRE — Wilkes-Barre Area School Board members looked to possible changes in transportation spending — more than $4 million a year — as they continued trying to plug a $1.7 million shortfall in next year’s budget.

The board also talked of a 10 percent cut in spending on supplies, and how retirements and changing the reading program could affect costs during a budget and finance meeting Wednesday.

Business Manager Leonard Przywara said the $1.7 million figure was derived by comparing projected costs to this year’s spending, but he added an important caveat. This year’s budget actually had a $2.3 million shortfall that was covered by drawing money from a “fund balance” or surplus.

Combine that with the $1.7 million and the real gap between income and revenue next year is about $4 million.

While the fund balance still hovers between $6 million and $7 million, “we can’t keep going back to that,” Przywara said. “Eventually, there won’t be any left.”

Board Member Maryanne Toole also pointed out the fund balance is intended as a “rainy day fund” in case some major unexpected cost arises.

Board President John Quinn suggested the district can save money by streamlining transportation routes and doing some work in house — the district only recently eliminated a handful of bus routes it used to handle; the bulk of the work is contracted out.

Quinn suggested either buying vans or using buses the district still owns that are sitting idle and have not yet been sold. Board Member Dino Galella said that, when he was a principal in the district, they would sometimes rent vans for trips by small groups, at a considerable savings.

Przywara said there may be up to seven retirements this year, though only two are definite. The district could save money by not replacing retirees or by replacing them with new workers starting near the bottom of the pay scale.

But Przywara also said the district is looking at up to $400,000 to switch to a new reading program, costs that so far are being spread out over several years, with the district piloting the new program this year for a small cost and paying more later if the program is fully adopted.

The district is also looking at about $160,000 to acquire new school administrative software from Skyward Inc., a purchase made necessary because the software currently being used is no longer supported, Pzywara said. Skyward has agreed to spread that cost out, charging $24,000 the first year and $69,000 each of the following two years.

Quinn and others complained of “unfunded mandates,” including special education costs. While state law sets the rules as to what services the district must provide, it provides only about $3 million toward the $13 million the district spends, Przywara said.

Toole said the board is in a “time crunch” and that such budget scrutiny needs to occur year-round. Under state law, the district must adopt a preliminary budget by the end of May and a final budget by June 30.

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