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By Nicole a. Elliott Staff writer

Few taxpayers turned out when two local school districts hosted public hearings on their proposed 2012-13 spending plans Tuesday.

In Westmoreland, five community members showed up for a presentation on the $18,394,566 budget, which calls for an increase in spending and the amount to be raised by taxes, but maintains staffing levels and programs. The proposed budget is a $504,625 increase over the current 2011-12 spending plan. The total tax levy, or amount to be raised by taxes, is $7,493,010, an increase of $204,089, or 2.80 percent compared to the current budget.

Business Administrator Mark Kennedy said during Tuesday’s presentation that the increase in spending is still well below the cost of living increase, which was 3.82 percent. The district’s spending increase in 2012-13 would be 2.82 percent. District enrollment for 2012-13 is expected to remain around 961, district officials said.

The levy is also slightly under what would have been the district’s levy increase limit by about $40,000, Kennedy said. The district’s levy increase limit was 2.81 percent. Because the proposed budget includes a levy that us under the state’s tax cap, Kennedy said the district will just need a majority plus one of votes to pass the budget.

Westmoreland Central School lost about $425,000 in federal stimulus funding for the 2012-13 budget, Kennedy said. Over the last four years, there have been 33 1/2 positions lost district-wide through retirements and lay-offs that have not been replaced, he said. According to state projections, the district has received $2.5 million less aid than the state originally estimated over the last four years, he said. Kennedy also pointed out that the district has saved nearly $500,000 from teachers taking a salary freeze and from switching health insurance plans (going to a three-tier prescription drug program) — both concessions agreed upon last school year.

Board of Education candidate John Acee II said during a tough economy, when district residents are "living from pay check to pay check," it is more important for the board to work together to come up with innovative ways to maintain district programming and jobs.

"We need to work to find new and more efficient ways to educate our children," the incumbent said. "As a board member I feel it’s my responsibility to ask the tough questions...while keeping the best interests of the students and the community at the forefront of our decisions."

Incumbent Charlene Hartman, who has been involved with the school district since 1979, commended the board for always working together to put the best interests of the students first. Both candidates are running unopposed for a three-year term.

Also included in the budget vote is a proposition for the purchase of two new 66-passenger school buses at a cost not to exceed a total $212,868, while the district will remove four vehicles from its fleet. One is being donated to the Pride Pack band boosters, while three others will go up for bid on the online auction site eBay, Kennedy said. Each bus up for sale has well over 120,000 miles. The district did not purchase buses in 2011-12.

In Camden, one resident attended the district’s public hearing Tuesday, but officials had made several presentations to the community in recent weeks. Assistant Superintendent of Business Karl R. Keil Jr. said about six people showed to a presentation at Annsville Elementary Monday, and that an average 2-6 residents attended each of the six community presentations. Camden’s proposed $46,404,898 budget calls for a 5.72 percent increase in expenditures over the current spending plan. The increase is attributed to increased principle and interest being recognized for the payment of recent construction, including the high school addition and other building renovations. But Keil said the new principle and interest payments will be offset by state aid and reserves. The new tax levy will be $10,403,151, which is up $191,970, or 1.88 percent compared to 2011-12.

The public was "pretty supportive, there were just questions about building aid — how that worked and how it impacted taxpayers," Keil said. "It was about understanding why the budget was going up 5.72 percent and how that’s being offset. We received support for the 1.88 percent levy increase, and people thought that was fair."

Board of Education incumbents Ryan Fisher and Tyler Henry are running for three-year terms unopposed.

The public vote on 2012-13 school budgets is Tuesday, May 15.

RomeSentinel.com

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