COAL TOWNSHIP - The Shamokin Area School Board must erase a $3 million-plus deficit for next year's budget without a significant property tax increase.

The board adopted a resolution Tuesday that prevents a tax hike beyond the 3.2 percent inflation index, a figure calculated by the state for each public school district.

That caps a potential tax increase at 0.84 mills, according to information provided by Karen Colangelo, district business manager.

The estimated deficit for 2014-15 stands at $3,094,339, a figure that must be erased before a final budget is adopted before the June 30 deadline.

At the moment there are no plans for staff furloughs to balance the budget, he said.

"We're not projecting any at this point," board President Ron McElwee said after Tuesday's monthly meeting.

He said a preliminary budget could be adopted as early as next month.

McElwee said he's hopeful that since Gov. Tom Corbett and other state legislators are up for re-election, additional state money will be made available toward public education.

Apart from holding out hopes for increases in state subsidies, McElwee cited attempts to renegotiate tuition reimbursements and health benefits for all union employees to shave the deficit figure. He also cited ongoing attempts to lower the terms of an expired lease agreement with Northwestern Academy where the district oversees both regular education and special education.

A one-year, $1.3 million lease agreement between Shamokin Area and Northwestern Academy expired in June. They are currently operating under the terms of the expired deal.

Calling the approximate $130,000 monthly rental fee "Manhattan prices," McElwee said district officials are exploring options toward educating the adjudicated youth remanded to Northwestern Academy at an off-site facility.

The district has paid the rent through January, according to Colangelo, something McElwee said was necessary to continue negotiations.

HVAC concerns

Dave Petrovich, supervisor of buildings and grounds, asked the school board to consider replacing the HVAC equipment in the middle/high school building.

Petrovich said much of the equipment was installed in 1994, calling it a "cheaper system." The system is inefficient, is costly to repair and leaves little control over comfort zones, he said, adding that the manufacturer is now out of business.

"I know we have to spend a little money to save a lot of money," he said. "With the technology today we're kind of wasting money."

The systems at the elementary and annex are solid, he said.

Petrovich was unable to provide a potential savings estimate, but said he is exploring potential grant options. He acknowledged that the initial cost will be the "big question" for school directors to consider.

School directors did not indicate if they supported the idea.

In other business, the school board voted to:

- Accept a bid of $26,378 from Great Eastern Seating Co. to replace seat backs in the auditorium balcony. Many of the seat backs are broken, creating sharp edges and posing a potential safety risk, Petrovich said. Director Ed Griffiths was initially reluctant given Petrovich's presentation on the middle/high school's HVAC system but reconsidered when told of a potential safety hazard;

- Create a groundskeeper/maintenance position and hire Michael Slodysko at a $15 hourly rate for 260 days, a move approved on a 5-1 vote with Director Rosalie Smoogen in opposition;

- Revise the position of technology technician and recall furloughed employee Rob Jones to work part-time for 200 days at an hourly rate of $12.50;

- Regrade Judy Marose to a Grade 3, which includes a $0.34 hourly rate increase, raising her wage to $18.94, a move opposed by Smoogen;

- Set the mileage reimbursement rate at $0.56 a mile per federal regulations;

- Approve a three-year measurement, administrative, stability period related to the district's responsibility to the Affordable Care Act;

- Pay Klacik and Associates no more than $5,500 to audit district tax collectors;

- Lease 183 square feet of the elementary building to Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit for $3,660 retroactive to the 2012-13 school year;

- Appoint Berkheiser Associates as delinquent tax collector, and for Berkheiser OneSource to perform an Act 80 records comparison for $735;

- Set the substitute nurse rate a $20 hourly retroactive to Dec. 9, a move opposed by Smoogen;

- Issue professional contracts and grant tenure to Rachel Gittens and Inga Maciejewski;

- Allow Colangelo to attend the Pennsylvania School Business Officers Annual Conference from March 11 to March 14 at a cost of $750.25;

- Appoint the following as elementary tutors through May 9, one hour per week at $18.50 per hour: Stephanie Boyer, Angelic Christian, Wendi Lynch, Kandy Miller, Donna Nahodil, Dana Rutkowski, Donna Talisesky and Collete Long (substitute);

- Add Nicole Bozza to the event security list at $8.15 hourly, $25 minimum per event.