Mars school budget calls for more staff, police force

April 15, 2019 Cranberry Local News

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ADAMS TWP — Increases in security and additional staff are expected to be part of the 2019-20 Mars School District budget, officials said Tuesday.

That roughly $52 million budget won't include a tax increase or request for additional mills, but will include a $1.5 million deficit to begin the fiscal year.

This isn't an uncommon concept, according to Jill Swaney, the district's business manager. She outlined the plan to the school board during Tuesday's meeting.

Swaney said the board typically passes a negative budget, with the difference being made up over the course of the year. She said with the rapid growth in the area, property taxes can't be estimated, but always end up bringing the budget to even. She added that some items in the budget often fall short of projections, resulting in savings.

The current $48.36 million budget had a similar deficit when passed, and Swaney said that has been accounted for.

However, for 2019-20, the expectation is that the whole amount won't be made up. As a result, the budget calls for the district to dip into its fund balance. Swaney said this would decrease that balance — which serves as a sort of savings account for the district — from about $3.8 million to $3.38 million. If those funds aren't ultimately needed, they will be put back in the fund balance, she said.

Swaney broke down the district's income, saying at first look it appears the district is taking in an additional $322,000. However, she said the increase is actually about $82,000, and appears larger due to the way certain subsidies are now labeled and administered. Superintendent Wesley Shipley referred to the switch as a “shell game,” as certain funds were shuffled in name, but didn't actually increase.

Swaney said the largest expenditures are salaries, health care and retirement funds. She said new expenses include an additional $200,000 for the formation of a district police force as well as a focus on increasing staffing.

At roughly $960,000, the district is recommending the hire of additional support personnel, including a psychologist and social worker/counselor, Swaney said. Those services are currently contracted out, and hiring them as district employees will save money in the long run, she said.

Other new hires include special education and elementary school teachers, she added. The budget also includes the purchase of a new math curriculum, which hasn't been updated in seven years.

Swaney said barring any major changes between now and May, this tentative budget will be presented to the board at its next meeting. It will then be posted for 30 days for public review, with adoption scheduled to take place in June.

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J.W.  Johnson Jr.

J.W. Johnson Jr.

J.W. Johnson Jr. is the bureau chief of the Cranberry Eagle. Johnson is a native of Bellaire, Ohio, and graduated from Bellaire High School in 2004. He is a 2009 graduate of Ohio University in Athens with a bachelor of specialized studies degree in English and journalism. While there, he served as a reporter and editor at The Post, the university’s student-run, independent newspaper. In 2009, he was hired as a reporter for The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register in Wheeling, W.Va. Over the course of eight years, he also served as Marshall County bureau chief, city editor and news editor. He also won two first place West Virginia Press Association Awards for his reporting and design work. He and his wife, Maureen, live in Carnegie.