By Evamarie Socha
The Daily Item
LEWISBURG — School directors voted 8-1 Thursday night to approve a time line for a $30 million Lewisburg Area High School on the Newman Farm property in Kelly Township, and also reviewed the “best preliminary” budget in the past four to five years.
The time line, presented a week ago at a public forum on financing the project, has construction beginning in September and the complex ready for students in August 2016.
In another 8-1 vote, directors authorized the district to begin preparing documents for the bond obligation for the project. This includes refinancing the district’s series of 2005 bonds and fund its capital projects between Jan. 1 and March 30, 2014, which will allow Lewisburg to jump on the best interest rate when it arises, Superintendent Mark DiRocco said.
A representative of Robert W. Baird & Co. Public Finance of Exton last week presented several bond-funding scenarios, but DiRocco on Thursday night said other groups and a Valley bank with bonding authority also will offer options.
Board member Mary Howe was the dissenting vote on both measures.
A question from borough resident Kelly Finley about projected school population-growth studies seemed to draw frustration from DiRocco.
Finley said a study originally had the district at 2,100 students while Lewisburg has 1,900 students, DiRocco said, and added population projections are only good for about three years.
But the project is not just about population “but also progression,” DiRocco said. “We have outgrown the high school. What we are embarking on will be good for decades. The facility is not now adequate. There is no room for growth.”
Board President Kathy Swope said the current high school has classroom sizes under the minimum square footage the state mandates. She also noted the board approved the high school project three years ago but had to instill the flexible time line, approved in June 2012, because financial constraints knocked it off schedule.
For the 2014-15 preliminary budget, in what DiRocco called “moderately good news,” sees spending at $30,234,801 and a deficit of $218,074. It’s an increase of $1.2 million, which DiRocco attributed to two things: benefits expenditures, projected at $7.6 million and up 70 percent from a year ago, mostly owing to retirement contributions; and salaries, with two labor agreements that were settled in the past school year, adding $230,000, or 1.79 percent, over last year.
The capital project account remains level-funded at about $430,000.
The budget also does not include a tax increase, though Lewisburg’s basic real estate index cap is 2.1 percent; an “aid ratio” could take it up to 2.4 percent, DiRocco said.
Current millage for Lewisburg is 16.06 and the “value of a mill” is $968,159.