MILTON — The Milton Area School District is facing a $1.2 million budget deficit under the terms of a proposed preliminary budget to be voted on by the board at its meeting next week.

Business Administrator Derrek Fink and consultant Jef Wall highlighted the district’s proposed 2020-2021 budget during Tuesday’s board committee session. Wall stressed that nothing in the budget is set in stone, and noted that the board is not committing to a tax increase. The final budget is expected to be adopted May 19.

According to Fink, the budget tentatively includes $35.6 million in revenue and $36.8 million in expenses.

He said salaries are projected to raise by 5.5%, while health insurance costs are expected to rise by 14.9%. Fink did not have access following the meeting to the dollar amount salaries are projected to increase by. He said health insurance costs are projected to increase by $547,882.

Fink also said the preliminary budget assumes the board will vote to raise taxes to the maximum 3.6% allowed by law, and take advantage of additional exceptions the district can apply to the state for to further increase taxes.

However, he said during the meeting that in the coming months the board will likely be presented with various taxing options. Those options could include no tax increase, raising taxes by half of the amount allowed, and increasing taxes to the maximum allowed by law.

“I understand the ire of taxpayers,” Superintendent Dr. Cathy Keegan said. “The funding is being taken away from (school districts) and the only alternative is the taxpayers. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the realty the board of directors will look at.”

She encouraged taxpayers to contact legislators to ask the state to consider other options for funding school districts.

Keegan said both during and following the meeting that the proposed budget includes three potential new full-time positions: A special education teacher at White Deer Elementary School, a home-school visitor and a development assistant.

With salary and benefits, Keegan said each position accounts for about $100,000 of the proposed budget.

Catherine Girton, the district’s director of Special Education, said the new teacher is necessary as the current special education teacher at White Deer works with 16 students on a daily basis. If the new position is approved, one special education teacher at the school would work with students in kindergarten through second grade. The other would teach students in grades three through five.

Keegan said the home-school visitor would deal primarily with truancy issues. According to Keegan, changes in legislation will increase the amount of time schools must spend dealing with truancy issues.

Under the legislation, high school Assistant Principal Mike Bergey said parents who have truancy charges filed against them will be required to appear for a hearing before the district magistrate, rather than just entering a guilty plea.

Bergey said it takes a staff member about 45 minutes time to attend one truancy hearing. So far this year, Bergey said the parents of 35 high school students have had to appear for hearings. Those numbers are expected to increase next year due to various changes in the legislation.

As part of their responsibilities, Keegan said the home-school visitor would be responsible for going to homes to find out why students are not in school. She said the school resource officer could accompany the individual on the visits.

“This would become a way to reach out to our families, to provide support and services,” Keegan said.

If the development assistant position is included in the final budget, Keegan said the individual hired to fill the position will manage the district’s 68 different scholarships.

At this point last year, Fink said the district was facing a similar deficit which was largely erased by the time the final budget was adopted.

As part of their efforts to erase the deficit, Fink and Wall said they will be conducting a salary audit to make sure the district’s new computer software is programmed to properly calculating the salary figures.

The board also heard a presentation from the district’s guidance counselors, who spoke on the Chapter 339 Plan which school districts are required to approve every five years. The board is expected to adopt the district’s latest plan at its next meeting, to be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the high school library.

Aaron Slusser, a middle school guidance counselor, said the plan outlines the importance of career planning for students in all grade levels. In recent years, counselors said they have conducted elementary career fairs, eighth-grade career and technology visits and high school industry tours in order to help students prepare for their futures.

Board President Christine Rantz and member Brett Hosterman were absent from the meeting. Board member Eric Moser arrived late due to another commitment.

Staff writer Kevin Mertz can be reached at 570-742-9671 or email kevin@standard-journal.com.

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