The Easton Area School District has approved a preliminary budget for 2012-2013, one which raises taxes by 2.2 percent and could lead to the loss of numerous district jobs.
The board voted on the Tuesday evening during after hearing pleas from students, parents and educators who pleaded with school directors to save district programs.
In approving the 2.2 percent increase, the board was backing away from a more austere , which would have meant more than 100 job cuts.
"At zero, we will cripple the education process in this community," board member William Rider said.
Still, the preliminary budget approved by the board's 6-2 vote includes 77 cuts at every level.
Teachers told the board they were disappointed it had come to this. Jacqueline Olimpo, a music teacher at the , said she had been laid off in 2009, and expects to be cut again this year.
"We don't have to kill the taxpayer or the student," she said. "Those have been the only options for three years now."
Superintendent Susan McGinley gave the board a run down of the proposed cuts, which include:
- Two science teachers, two history teachers, two math teachers, two English teachers, one reading teacher and one health and PE teacher at the Easton Area Middle School. There are also four classroom teachers at the middle school.
- One classroom teacher at .
- Four classroom teachers at the Easton Area Academy.
- 15 classroom teachers at the elementary level, as well as three "special subject area" educators.
When McGinley -- reading from a prepared document -- said the cuts wouldn't adversely affect education, scoffed. Earlier in the evening, they had pressed the board to improve the way the district does its budgeting.
"I guess I'm struggling to find out when the cuts are going to stop," said Easton resident Jeremy Hylton, noting that the next two budgets show the district dealing with deficits. "Is the foreseeable future this sort of meeting every year or two?"
Board President Robert Fehnel stressed that the board -- made up of mostly new members -- inherited the district's financial problems. And he acknowledged that the next two years will be tough, with a projected $5 million gap in next year's budget and an $8 million deficit in the year after that.
"That’s a large ship to turn around," Fehnel said.
Only two board members backed the idea of a zero percent tax increase: Kerri Leonard-Ellison and Robert Moskaitis, who said he had to think of the taxpayers.
"These are tough economic times. There are many people living on a fixed income. And for them it matters," Moskaitis said.
He had missed the previous meeting; when he finally watched the recording, he said he couldn't believe residents were pushing for higher taxes.
"I thought I was watching The Wizard of Oz," he said.
Board Member Bob Arnts said the Oz comparison was more applicable to the zero-percent tax increase scenario. Arnts, a former teacher, painted a grim picture of what would happen if the district lost more than 100 teaching jobs.
"Without another 100 teachers, the buildings will not be safe," he said.
In the middle of all this there was some good news: the Family Connection Program at Cheston Elementary, which to save last week, will get more than $2 million in state grant money, McGinley reported.