Bettsville may cut extracurriculars to trim costs

BETTSVILLE – The Financial Planning and Supervision Commission that is assisting the Bettsville School District as it works through its fiscal emergency met Wednesday to discuss the latest cuts planned for the district.

The district already is sharing the services of Treasurer Jamie Pearson and a payroll clerk with Old Fort schools at a cost of $26,000 for the treasurer and $5,000 for the clerk. Now it’s looking to share additional services.

Bettsville Superintendent Greg Pettit reported the district is planning to reduce costs by discontinuing all extracurricular activities, effective at the start of the 2014-15 school year. This also is to save on utility costs, as the building will not be used for as many hours each day. The district also is considering sharing the services of Old Fort Superintendent Steve Anway. These reductions would save the district approximately $71,000. All of these changes will be voted on at the May meeting of the board of education.

Since Pettit’s last day of work is to be May 23, Pearson said a committee consisting of members from Bettsville and Old Fort boards of education would need to meet soon to discuss sharing the superintendent, as well as any other possible shared services.

Pearson also presented the five-year forecast for the district. She said there could be a small increase in personal property taxes as well as income taxes in the district.

The potential loss of open enrollment students is to cost the district a substantial amount of money, offsetting the small gains.

“There’s no question that, if the board votes to cancel athletics, that we will see a significant reduction in students. They’re going to go. Our open enrollment will decrease by at least 30 students, if not more,” Pettit said. He added that if that happened, enrollment would drop from 148 students to not much more than 100.

While changes are necessary to bring the district out of fiscal emergency, Pearson said the district is in a difficult spot.

“We are in somewhat of a Catch 22 because the more we reduce, the more students we will lose,” she said. “Any loss of kids will be significant to our budget.”

Pettit agreed, saying reducing the number of teachers and combining grade levels would be a bad idea because “that’s not best for kids.”

Commission Chairman Roger Hardin said the challenge is finding a way to balance the budget without doing things that aren’t best for kids.

Hardin spoke with administrators about the district’s recovery plan. To complete the plan, the district would need to have a better idea of whether it would like to consolidate with Old Fort, share more services or put a larger levy on the ballot. He also mentioned that, since Bettsville is such a small school, it is cost prohibitive to operate. The pupil-teacher ratio is 6.9 students per teacher, while neighboring Old Fort has 13.0 and Lakota has 18.6 students per teacher. This leads to a cost per Bettsville pupil of $13,499 while Old Fort’s cost is $9,662 and Lakota’s is $10,495.

Since they have to sign off on certain school board actions, the commission approved motions to:

Non-renew all supplemental contracts in the district.

Authorize payment to Old Fort in the amount of $31,000 for the services of the treasurer and payroll clerk for the remainder of the school year.

Authorize payment of teachers at a rate of $8 per period when they serve as substitutes during planning time.

The commission is to meet at 1 p.m. May 21.