As the Bethlehem-Center School district operates with a negative fund balance, school directors voted Monday to furlough 13 teachers.
The measure was approved by a 7-1 vote of the board, with School Director Shawna Roberts casting the lone negative vote.
“It’s hard. It really is,” said Superintendent Donald MacFann. “No one wants to see this. As hard of a decision as this was for the elected body to make, it was a decision that needed to be made based upon the numbers here with the students at Beth-Center and the amount of professional staff we have.”
MacFann explained that Beth-Center has a negative fund balance of $2.6 million, and is the only school district in the tri-county area operating with a negative balance.
“In the entire commonwealth of Pennsylvania, of the top four schools that have the largest fund deficit, Beth-Center ranks fourth out of 500 schools with a $2.6 million fund deficit,” MacFann said. “When you look at the audits for the last three years, in no uncertain terms, the audits clearly (recommend) reduced spending in areas that are directly related to regular and special education.”
Teachers have been involved in contract negotiations since the previous pact expired in June 2021.
Also, MacFann said seven other teachers will be retiring.
“That was part of the discussion to minimize the furloughs,” MacFann explained. “We looked at the possibility of who could retire and we talked to those people individually and there were seven retirements. Of course, five of those will have to be replaced due to state regulations as far as what we have to offer.”
MacFann said the district had 90 teachers before the furloughs. However, even without these teachers, the student to teacher ratio will remain below the state average according to most tabulations, MacFann said.
“With the staff we have, our numbers within the elementary school are ranging from 13 to 1 to 17 to 1, as far as our class sizes,” MacFann said. “Even with these furloughs, there wouldn’t be any class with more than 21 or 22 kids. That’s still rather low in comparison (to other school districts in the state).”
MacFann credited the board for making such a tough decision.
“My hat goes off to them,” he said. “They made a group decision that was needed, and the objective data shows this clearly needed to happen. We will continue to provide a free and appropriate education for all students that attend the Bethlehem-Center School District.”
The board also voted on a preliminary budget that will include a tax increase up to the millage permissible by Act 1 of 2006.
“Raising the tax to the index was an agreement the board had made for a recent bond they had taken out,” explained Business Manager Matt Waugh.
The unanimous vote calls for an increase of .5323 mills, which would take the millage from 10,8643 mills to 11,3966 mills.
Waugh said a homeowner with a $100,000 home would pay an annual increase of $53.23 in taxes.
He added that if the school district realizes a 100% collection rate, the additional money would bring $228,077 to the district.
The board’s next scheduled meeting is June 27 at 7 p.m. School districts are required to have a spending plan in place by June 30.