LASD Budget draws concerns, discussion

With the need for a permanent superintendent and district solicitor, a $57,000,000 construction project underway, and a budget deficit of 1.5 million, the Littlestown Area School Board, with seven new members, has its work cut out.

The initial budget presentation, which took place at the recent Finance, Property, and Supply (FPS) Committee meeting, projected revenues of $38,758,236 and expenses of $40,298,614, leaving a deficit of about $1,500,000 for the 2024/2025 school year.

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However, Interim Superintendent Don Bell cautioned that preliminary budgets are challenging to fairly assess because so many things can happen throughout the year in the revenue and expense areas. He pointed out that the actual increase in the budget from last year is 1.4 percent. “I believe this is reasonable,” he said. He added that the increase is due, in part, to some of the same things that make budgets rise in households – higher prices for things like groceries, gas, and heat.

Bell, who has overseen “nineteen years of budget building,” said that while this is the preliminary budget, the real work will begin on July 1 when the new superintendent asks how the district can stay within budget.

“No one wants to raise taxes,” Bell said. “We always try to keep things as low as possible, but times are tougher, and we have to respect that.”

Two new Littlestown residents spoke briefly at Monday’s work session to ask the board to consider reducing the budget to attract future retirees to the community and maintain its official integrity, accountability, and responsibility.

The board responded to the budgetary concerns while reviewing the proposed agenda for the February 12 meeting. Several members did not support the proposed $52,000 for audio equipment to improve the remote broadcast of the meetings.

Carl Thompson, (FPS) Committee Chair, said there only appeared to be about 18 listeners. “$52,000 seems a lot – is a lot,” he added.

Board member Nick Lovell agreed. “I don’t see how spending unbudgeted money for 18 or 19 people is a good idea. We need to get the most impact out of every dollar we spend.”

Bell explained that data from 23 meetings held between April 17 and December 4 indicated an average of 18 livestream listeners per meeting. However, that average increased to 81 people who listened after the initial recording. He said the number of listeners varies, with some meetings only garnering interest from 34 people, while others, especially meetings where the budget is discussed, attract as many as 206 remote attendees.

Sullivan commented on the $135,000 that will be spent to support the Adams County Technical Institute (ACTI), which is currently looking to acquire land and funds for a new building. “We don’t have to raise taxes for them, but since we’re one of the only counties that don’t have a technical institution, it doesn’t seem prudent.” He added that if the district does not support the ACTI, it would be unfair to its students.

Other board members asked about the new $140,000 school bus and $100,000 technology replacement included in the budget cycles. Board member Janelle Kessler suggested the board could look at longer intervals between replacing student devices. Fred Miller, one of the seven newly elected board members, wanted to examine the cost of repairing instead of replacing the bus.

Future budget presentations, updates, proposals, and approval will take place at the FPS committee meetings, board work sessions, and regular board meetings from March through June 17, when the final budget will be approved. All meetings are open to the public, who can attend live or listen to recordings of the sessions.

Pupil Services Presentation

Dr. Carolyn Fiascki, LASD Pupil Services Director, introduced the district’s two school psychologists, Greg Wentz and Gabby Vaxmonsky, who were chosen as this month’s Employee Highlight. “They are trained in child development, teaching and learning, behavior, mental health and educational systems.” She added that they also assess mental and behavioral health issues and learning difficulties and facilitate strong family partnerships.

Dr. Fiascki said that school psychologists have been “hidden away” in the past, but “today they play an integral part in our school community, our classrooms, and our teachers.”

Dr. Fiascki shared some of the things pupil services have accomplished since 2021. With the help of post-COVID state funding, which ends this year, LASD created a wellness program called Level Up to meet the needs of students who might otherwise have difficulties receiving outside resources. To meet those needs, the wellness staff increased, including two psychologists, two mental health counselors, and two behavior specialists.

Fiascki said that before 2021, the district had 44 students educated in outside placements for behavioral needs. That number has been reduced to 14. In the 2022/2023 school year, about $175,000 was saved by providing five students in intensive behavior support classrooms instead of sending them to outside facilities.

Between 2021 and the end of January 2024, 43 elementary and 181 secondary students received individual therapy, with 145 of those students being successfully discharged. In the behavioral health area, the specialists have worked with 193 students, from Kindergarten through high school, with 24 students discharged. They also support the district’s three behavioral intervention classrooms, working with the students to develop coping and self-regulation skills.

“No student has been denied services,” Dr. Fiascki said. “In Adams County, we are the only district providing these in-house services with our people. With the Level Up program now in its third year, we are getting services to students sooner.”

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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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Charles Stangor
Charles Stangor
2 months ago

Dear LASD school board members, Gettysburg Connection covers all of your board meetings, sometimes with the help of your video recordings. We feel that making a video recording of your meetings is an essential part of your transparency and encourage you to do the recordings consistently and well.  There are always some people who cannot attend in person. And the recording provides a lasting record of the meeting. That there is an average of 81 people listening to each meeting demonstrates the importance of the recordings. I would like to suggest to you that you contact Mark Wherley at Adams County… Read more »

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