- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—The Belle Vernon Area School District has saved money and improved some services by taking over transportation services, Superintendent Dr. John Wilkinson said Monday at a board meeting.

The corresponding increase in the budget surplus could help the district as it waits out the state budget impasse.

When Wilkinson joined the district for the 2012-13 school year, it was contracting out for transportation services.

“We saved a lot of tax hikes by doing so,” Wilkinson said of the in-house transportation decision.

The district spent nearly $160,000 less on transportation services in 2013-14 than in 2009-10.

The biggest saving has been in transportation for special needs students, Wilkinson said.

The district paid the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit $587,333 to transport such students in 2011-12. It budgeted $315,670 for 2015-16.

Belle Vernon Area saved the money by moving the life skills program to the high school and taking over the autistic support program for kindergarten through grade six.

“If you have 18 kids here for life skills, that’s 18 less students being transported outside,” Wilkinson said. “We’re saving by having the kids here, and it’s best for them.

“We don’t send our valedictorian out, why should we send our kids with the greatest needs out?”

The board agreed to seek a $2.1 million tax revenue anticipation loan to cover district operations until state lawmakers approve a budget for the 2016 fiscal year. The 2015 budget expired June 30. On June 29, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed the budget approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Wilkinson said the loan will keep the district afloat until mid- to late-October.

Asked what the next step would be, Wilkinson said, “I’m hopeful the budget will be settled by then.”

“Luckily, we have a little bit of a fund balance,” Wilkinson said. “You can’t just shut down schools.”

Wilkinson said the loan is a precautionary step and would permit the district to meet its bond payment and salary obligations. The interest rate is 0.99 percent, Wilkinson said, making repayment reasonable.

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