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LASD board focuses on taxes and health

Littlestown Area School District has proposed a 2.75 percent tax increase as part of the 2023-2024 budget. Of the increase, 2.2 percent of the tax increase will fund the new building project, and .55 percent will be used for operational expenses.

“We’ve done it with minimal tax raises overall,” Superintendent Bigger said, referring to the long-term planning of the 2024 consolidations project, which will combine the middle and high school into a new building. “The tax increase is not in range of what we wanted, but it is in the range of what was projected,” he added.  

Bigger cited the cost of transportation, fuel, charter schools, and health care in addition to escalating building expenses as the cause of the increase. “Schools are not inflation-proof,” he added.

“We’ve had many years of millage set-aside savings, and now we’re turning the corner from saving to paying for the construction project,” said LASD business manager Thomas Showvaker, who presented the proposed final budget.

Showvaker pointed out that while the budget increased because of a mandated support staff increase, contracted transportation services, and inflation ($365,000), those costs have been offset through cost-cutting efforts such as consolidated savings, staff attrition, and a zero-based budget ($378,000).

The proposed final budget will seek approval at the May 15 board meeting, with a final budget presentation scheduled for June 7 at 5 p.m. Final budget approval will not be given until the June 19 board meeting.

Showvaker noted that the $800,000 from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund will be discontinued in 2024. “If we want to keep those programs being funded, we’ll have to find a way to fund those programs.” Currently, some of those funds contribute to hiring a school psychologist, two therapists, and a second behavior specialist for the Level Up Clinic, which provides mental health services for LASD students.

Mental Health Concerns

“We have a lot of students with more and more concerns here at school, especially in the area of mental health,” said Dr. Carolyn Fiaski, Pupil Services Director at LASD. “They need a more intensive one-hour type of counseling in areas such as depression, anxiety, depression, bipolar and many others,” she added.

Sara Powell, selected as the LASD April staff spotlight, which provides each week, spoke on behalf of the program. Powell sees 40 to 45 high and middle school students each week through 30 to 60-minute sessions.

She spends one-on-one time with students focusing on learning skills to help manage emotions,  behaviors, relationships, and thinking.

Over the two years at LASD, Powell has served approximately 75 students, with 26 students discharged who have completed their goals and are doing better. Most of the students that Sara sees are students with depression, anxiety, and suicidality. “A good chunk of students I’ve worked with have dealt with suicidality at some point in their life,” she said. Powell sees students as much as possible according to severity and need.

“It’s a wonderful program that we have here,” said Board President Dolores Nester. “We hear it all the time now in the nation that we need to have more mental health people in the schools. I really thank you for providing services for our students that are so needed in today’s society,” she added.

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Judith Cameron Seniura is a freelance reporter. She began her journalism career in the early ‘70s and has written for newspapers, magazines, and other media in Ontario, Canada, Alaska, Michigan, Nebraska, San Antonio, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.

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