Neshaminy School District Superintendent Louis Muenker recommended a variety of budget cuts to balance the 2012-2013 budget, including closing Neshaminy's alternative school, The Learning Center [TLC].
When budget discussions first began in December, the budget gap was estimated to be approximately $12 million. However, after factoring in additional costs associated with special education and the Bucks County Intermediate Unit, the deficit has grown to about $14 million.
Muenker prefaced his cost-cutting presentation Wednesday evening by telling the public that he would just be presenting his recommendations for the board to discuss and that no decisions will be made just yet.
His first, and possibly most controversial, recommendation was to eliminate the district's current TLC program and replacing it with an expansion of a state-approved Ombudsman program on the high school campus. With this program, Muenker said that, under the direction of the Bucks County Intermediate Unit, the district would shift Neshaminy students involved in the district's other alternative programs to the Ombudsman program.
If the board were to move forward with this decision, the district would see a savings of about $1.4 million.
Muenker also suggested eliminating the middle schools' instructional opportunity period. While there would have to be more discussion about scheduling with this recommendation, Muenker stated that the district would see a savings in the form of eliminating 16 faculty positions.
The district could also chose to eliminate about 36 various certified and administrative staff positions across the district as a result of retirements and eliminating administrative and pupil services to save the district about $2.3 million, Muenker said.
Muenker also suggested that the district delay leasing or purchasing new buses to save $320,000; eliminating or reducing building needs and projects to save $420,000; and saving $55,000 by eliminating a bus to Lakeside, an alternative program, if the board approves closing TLC.
In addition, Muenker said that the district will realize a budget reduction from Bucks County Technical High School, which results in a savings of $291,000.
Since joining the health care insurance consortium, Muenker said Neshaminy is anticipating a savings of $120,000 in the first year of operation.
All of these recommendations, Muenker stated, would bring the 2012-2013 budget deficit to approximately $9.4 million.
In the coming school board meetings, Muenker said that he will continue to make recommendations after reviewing other departments and programs to see where the district can "effectively save costs."
Aside from the many recommendations Muenker made, the public comment portion of the meeting seemed to focus on the possible closing of TLC. Many current and former students plead with the school board to not cut the program that has had a great impact on their education and lives.
Two of the pleas came from Bucks County Commissioner Diane Marseglia and her daughter and former student, Katelyn.
TLC service learning coordinator Grant Passman said that during the 10 years TLC has been open, it has been able to increase its services while cutting its operating budget by 50 percent. He also said that TLC has a proposal for the district that could further cut its cost per student.
School Board President Ritchie Webb said that, currently, the TLC program costs the district an average of $35,000 to $40,000 per student.
"These kids have literally been saved by the program we offer," Muenker said of TLC.
"Having said that, it is a very expensive program to operate. I can’t say anything negative about the program, but what the board has to ponder by June 30 is whether we can sustain that program in its current structure," he said.