The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Union County

November 8, 2013

DiRocco: District can afford new high school

— LEWISBURG — With interest rates low and the Lewisburg Area School District in the best financial shape for a capital project in three years, now is the best time to build a new high school without the risk of raising taxes, Superintendent Mark DiRocco told the school board and a handful of audience members at a special public works session Thursday.

With that, the school board decided 8-1 to put voting for a new high school on its agenda next week. Director Mary Howe was the lone dissenter.

Part of why the district is in such good shape for this, DiRocco said, is a capital reserve fund established in the 2010-11 budget cycle. The money was put in there, he said, “with the idea that it would go to a future bond,” the method of funding school construction.

This also was the last year of school budgets before Gov. Tom Corbett began slashing education funding, putting districts, including Lewisburg, in critical states that required cuts in staff and programs.

Despite financial hardships, the district’s capital reserve fund has been kept funded and is at about $430,000.

“Because of smart financial management, we can build this high school without raising taxes,” DiRocco said. “After three years of frugality, we’re at a point that this is doable.”

Taxes could increase, however, for other expenses the district faces, mainly two things: the Pennsylvania Public School Employees’ Retirement System contribution that likely will be about $300,000, and rising health care insurance costs for employees.

The board also heard from Jamie Shelby, director of Robert W. Baird & Co. Public Finance of Exton, an underwriter of municipal bonds.

Shelby presented five funding scenarios — three with a price tag of $32 million and two with a price tag of $35 million. Interest rates for financing now are at 4.56 percent. Lewisburg is looking at a 20-year bond for the project.

DiRocco also offered a proposed schedule that would see construction begin about September 2014 and end in April 2016.

The rest of this year — roughly eight weeks — would see site development and an archeological study completed, building and program development done and schematic design and approval finished.

The school board entered into executive session after the public works meeting.

The next school board meeting is at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Donald H. Eichhorn Middle School.

During public comment, resident Dave Hafer, of East Buffalo Township, asked if the building is so bad, how come the high school is so highly rated. He was referring to rankings, including the national one by U.S. News & World Report, that put Lewisburg Area High School at the top of performance and academic achievement.

“The stress level it takes to get results takes its toll,” responded high school teacher Cynthia Shaffer. “While we do our best to adapt, we’re tripping over each other.”

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