The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

March 3, 2014

Mifflinburg school board rejects SUN Tech budget

By Evamarie Socha
The Daily Item

— MIFFLINBURG — The Mifflinburg school board voted down its share of the SUN Area Technical Institute’s proposed budget for 2014-15, asking officials of the New Berlin school to look again and cut more money.

SUN Tech’s proposed budget contains a 3.8 percent increase over last year for a total $6.2 million, Administrative Director Dennis Hain said. That includes $1,021,000 in federal and vocational subsidies, leaving $5,183,185 to be shared by the five sending districts — Shikellamy, Midd-West, Mifflinburg, Lewisburg and Selinsgrove.

As with most of the Valley’s school districts, however, Hain said the New Berlin school is feeling the pinch of a hike in its contributions to the Pennsylvania Public School Employees’ Retirement System. But also “technical education isn’t cheap,” Hain said. “Instead of a lot of books, we have millions of dollars of high-tech equipment that comes through these grants.”

Each school district uses a formula to figure their respective funding contributions. That includes a flat rate and a per-student rate, Hain said, as well as some fixed costs to cover utilities.

But the 3.8 percent increase is not evenly split among the sending districts, Mifflinburg Superintendent Dan Lichtel said, and “the biggest reason (for the increase) is the same thing impacting everybody: the retirement pension costs are going up,” he said. “That’s the big thing everywhere.”

What that means to Mifflinburg — which has a $1.3 million deficit and a proposed $28 million budget — ”is looking at other expenditures categories,” Lichtel said.

The specific amount Mifflinburg was asked of SUN Tech’s budget was not known, but Lichtel, who also leads SUN Tech’s joint operating committee this year, said board members looked over the budget and saw things “they felt could be tweaked.” Lichtel could not say what the board wants in particular.

“The board members independently reviewed the budget, and the flavor of the table is there are some things they would like to see worked on,” Lichtel said. “One thing certainly impacts another.”

Shikellamy, which typically sends the most students, passed its budget share, said Mary Brouse, a Lewisburg school board member who leads the joint operating committee for SUN Tech.

Midd-West has not voted on its share, she said, and she wasn’t sure what Selinsgrove has done. Lewisburg board members got their first read of that district’s share at its meeting last week.

Superintendent Mark DiRocco said it’s an increase of about $19,000 for the district, “which really is not bad for us.” It is not yet clear when Lewisburg will vote on the budget.

Four of the five sending school districts must pass the budget, Hain said. “We have fixed costs here, it’s very difficult,” he said. “Retirement is the driver” of this budget increase, “plus all utilities go up, health care is another big ticket item.”

The New Berlin school building is 44 years old and in need of some repair and safety upgrades.