Pension costs top MASD budget concerns

Pension costs remain a concern in the Montrose Area School District as the increased contribution rates over the past several years has whittled away at the district’s fund balance.
The district received a clean audit for 2015-16 and reviewed report highlights at the Monday, Jan. 9 meeting held at Choconut Valley Elementary.
Paul Murphy Jr., of Murphy Dougherty & Co., of Moscow, said the district paid $2.8 million in pension costs in 2015-16, up from the $2.4 million the prior year; and $1.36 million in 2013-14.
“In two to three years, (pension) costs grew $2.8 million,” Murphy said. Pension cost in the current year is about $3 million.
The rising pension costs are a budgeting problem for district’s that can only raise taxes up to a certain percentage.
Murphy said the district has navigated through budgeting difficulties by utilizing the fund balance to offset the pension contribution increases.
But, he warned, the district has only a couple more years left that it can borrow from that balance before it is exhausted.
Drinking fountain and water fixtures at Choconut Valley will be changed out in an attempt to remediate the school’s elevated lead levels found during testing.
The district could receive $35,000 in a cost settlement arising from a class action suit filed in the state for school base access funds that had been incorrectly awarded in the past. All district are required to approve the settlement agreement, said Special Education Director Kellyjo Riker.
Some changes may be coming to high school class requirements, reported Vice Principal Eric Powers. The state added a provision for district’s to officer a STEM/computer science credit class in lieu of a required third math or science credit.
Powers suggested decreasing the number of electives from 8.5 to 7.5, and offering students of choice of taking one of the required STEM credits, but keeping the traditional math and science credits at the required three for graduation.
A list of potential STEM classes will be put together and more discussion will take place before changes are finalized.
The board recognized students who qualified for PMEA District Chorus, Band, Jazz Band and Orchestra; and also recognized Maverick Naylor for placing second in the Regional Skills USA competition in welding sculpture and qualifying for state competition.
*Tom Lewis was appointed assistant track coach beginning with the 2017 spring sports season;
*the first reading of 26 policy updates was accepted;
*approved a memorandum of understanding with Children & Youth to ensure the provision of transportation for foster care youth when indicated the best interest of the student is to remain in the school district of origin;
*permission granted to transportation contractor James Ainey to update bus #23.
Finance committee budget meetings are scheduled for Monday, Jan. 16, 23, and Feb. 6 in the High School Community Learning Center; and Monday, Jan. 30 at Choconut Valley Elementary. Budget meetings will begin at 6:30 p.m. and board members encourage the public to attend.

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